Luther Vandross’s “One Shining Moment” was the final song at my wedding. A huge fan of March Madness, I couldn’t imagine a better way to send guests off. Few montages in sports are as powerful as the one that bookends the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, in large part because it so effectively captures a full range of human emotions, from jubilant athlete to passionate coach to heartbroken fan. It’s three minutes of pure chills. And, buzzer beaters notwithstanding, it’s that emotion that makes coverage of the NCAA tournament so compelling, which is why it’s confounding that parents are complaining about CBS’s tendency to cut to young fans crying during NCAA broadcasts.
In yet another gross, but not at all unsurprising overreaction when it relates to protecting kids, critics are clamoring for CBS and Turner Sports to stop showing devastated young fans in tears at the end of games. They claim it’s exploitive and cruel. They entirely miss the point. Parents — parents who know what they’re doing anyway — take kids to the tournament and get them excited precisely so that they can experience emotions. Sure, that sometimes ends in tears, but being passionate about sports is really fun. The kids are sad for a moment and, sure, showing that is manipulative to a degree, but that moment passes quickly.
Kids are pretty resilient. They know it’s a game.
This feels like an issue about some adults being deeply discomfited by the sight of children crying. As the parent of a toddler who randomly bawls if we serve her eggs instead of oatmeal, I don’t fall into that camp. And, as an adult sports fan who has spent days irrationally depressed in the wake of a loss (despite being a grown man with a reasonable capacity for logical thought), I sympathize with the kids while being happy for them. Poor kid, I think, it never gets any easier. But I also know that being a sports fan is fun and worth it. I know that highs come with the lows. I’m not a “suck it up” dad at all, but I’m also not convinced that children should be protected from emotions. Emotions make life more fun or, barring that, more memorable.
Does the camera need to linger? Of course, not. But that doesn’t mean it should avoid crying young fans either. If we succumb to that logic, we should also demand that cameramen never show happy 10-year-olds going bonkers. It would be disingenuous to show only half of the experience. But no one seems to be whining about the kids partying in the cheap seats. Hell, as fans watching the game, we love those kids. We used to be those kids.
And, yes, I obviously realize that those tears signify heartfelt pain. But I also know it’s sports pain. We’re not staring at a kid whose dog just died. The real problem is that we attach a stigma to sadness and tears at all. Crying is considered embarrassing. Rather than de-stigmatizing a natural emotion, censorious types want CBS to hide it. Talk about a bad lesson.
“We show happy kids, we show sad kids, we show happy adults, we show players that are happy, we show players that are sad, crying on the benches or on the floor,” CBS executive producer Harold Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “It’s part of the drama and the storytelling of the tournament. It’s part of the emotion. We do our best, throughout all of these games, throughout the tournament, to strike that proper balance.”
CBS has done a fine job with the broadcasts. They show basketball and they show the drama in the arena. And while it’s easy to understand the impulse to protect children from ratings-mad media execs, this is not the way to do it. They kids are alright. Or, better put. The kids aren’t alright, but they will be when their team starts winning again.