The Girl in the Pressbox: Don’t stop asking

There’s certainly this misconception that we must treat bereaved family members with a sense of fragility, as if any mere mention of their departed loved one’s name can trigger a waterfall of tears and an emotional breakdown. People dare not mention the loss of a loved one for fear that tears will ensue and worse, that it places an emotional burden on the friend, colleague or acquaintance who asks.

No one wants to bear that burden. No one wants to consul others. They want to go on with their lives, still in tact and everyone still accounted for.

There’s a fear of the reaction and how those who have lost loved ones will handle the pressure of questioning eyes.

And so we avoid those who have lost. We tiptoe around the real questions and the real emotions. It’s the gloomy grey cloud looming over every interaction after a loved one passes away.

I know because I’ve been there. My sister passed away when I was 16.

Even without hearing them, you know there are muffled questions between friends and teachers and coworkers about how to address the situation—about how best to handle you.

Having the dual roles of having lost a loved one and also being a journalist, when looking into the situation surrounding Bode Miller’s tears during his interview with Christin Cooper, I look at it from two different perspectives. I look at it from the perspective of someone who has lost (though I have certainly never been on the type of stage Miller has and had so many prying eyes cast my way) and I also see it from the perspective of a journalist who knew what the true story of that bronze medal was.

After examining my viewpoint from both perspectives, I stand by Cooper. But beyond that, I stand by it because I have lost. I stand by it because I know what it’s like to be treated like a delicate flower. And I also know that whether Miller was questioned about his emotions or not, it doesn’t change what he was feeling. It has been revealed that Miller was crying before the interview began and he was also the first to bring up his brother during the interview. His brother was on his mind. There is no way he could have been thinking about anything else.

Big moments in one’s life after losing a loved one are always bittersweet. You feel the joy of the accomplishment or milestone, but you also feel the longing for the person with whom you wish you could share it. Everyone you know and love could be there by your side, but you only notice the one person who is not. Miller was thinking about his brother. Cooper knew and she wasn’t in the wrong for having asked about it.

Sure, everyone handles loss differently. Some don’t want to talk about it. Others do. And really, talking about it helps. Pretending that it didn’t happen and that’s it’s not a factor in life, does not. Was Cooper supposed to pretend that she didn’t hear Miller mention his brother? Was she supposed to be like so many others when confronting a bereaved family member? If we don’t talk about it, it’s not there, right? Why are we so afraid to acknowledge loss?

Photo from nbcbayarea.com.

Photo from nbcbayarea.com.

She was a good journalist in that moment, particularly with the last question. She took note of Miller’s actions in the moments leading up to his run. It was there for everyone to see and she was observant. These situations, certainly require sensitivity. You have to take emotions into account, but you can’t necessarily avoid the subject. I’ll agree that the questioning was too harsh and maybe she could have done without one or two of them, taking cue from Miller’s struggle to answer, but it doesn’t change anything, really.

I’m not inside Miller’s head, so I can’t know for sure, but I don’t think he was crying because he was being asked to talk about his brother. He was crying because he missed him. He was crying because it was painful. But even he couldn’t blame Cooper for the questions. In that moment, they were the right questions to ask.

Maybe that medal was for Bode Miller alone. Maybe his brother, Chelone, wasn’t a factor in it at all. I don’t know because I’m not in Miller’s mind. But I think Miller needed it. Not just for his career, but because he had been through more than he should have been. He needed something good to come his way. And he got it, but his brother was part of that story. So Cooper inquired.

Maybe it was for ratings. Maybe NBC was preying on Miller’s story. Or maybe, it was a journalist who saw a human being and not an athlete. Maybe it was a journalist that saw a man who had overcome one of the most challenging circumstances in his life, something that anyone can take a positive lesson out of, especially the ones at home who know loss all too well and need inspiration.

I don’t know. I wasn’t any of the parties involved in this story. But, like them, I have been in similar circumstances. I’ve had people avoid asking questions about my sister. I’ve had to ask questions about heartbreaking circumstances, as all journalists have.

And I guess, what I hope could come out of this is that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the real things. Sports mask a lot. We love sports, and why? Because they’re a diversion from the difficult aspects of life. But deep down, there’s a lot more to sports than standings and medals. Sports are about people and the stories behind those people.

Cooper was unveiling the story of one person. And that person was sad. He was sad because he lost a brother. But do we forget that brother just because he passed away? No. Then we can’t stop asking questions or that’s the risk we take.

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2 thoughts on “The Girl in the Pressbox: Don’t stop asking

  1. “She was a good journalist in that moment” – Are you kidding!?! She came across as ignorant of Miller’s situation and of social norms for respecting other people’s privacy. It is good to talk about it, but it is not good to be forced to do so on international TV.

    Don’t defend her just because one day you’re hoping to be insensitive and get your 15 minutes of fame before your career crashes and burns.

    • Thanks for your input. I definitely see where you’re coming from, though the point of my column wasn’t from the viewpoint of being a journalist. I know I’ve never been on television while being asked about my situation, but in general, I don’t think death has to be some big secret or a taboo subject. It’s a part of life. Miller has had time to process his loss, so when he mentioned his brother, Cooper inquired further. That’s the mark of a good journalist–to build off of what your source is saying. She probably should have stopped after a few questions, but my point remains in that there’s nothing wrong with talking about and remembering loved ones. I love being asked about my sister because it shows that people aren’t treating me like a disease and loss is contagious.

      I’m not sure what you mean by saying that she was “ignorant of Miller’s situation.” Also, an understood notion of being in the sports world is that you forfeit some of your privacy. Naturally, people are going to inquire. And if anything, I think people can take a lot from Miller’s reaction. It’s okay to be sad and show emotion. I do understand why this can be considered a private issue, but I really don’t think it has to be.

      I will never be looking for my 15 minutes of fame. That’s not the goal of a responsible journalist, which is exactly what I plan to be. Your job is to tell the story the right way. The journalist should never become the story and it’s unfortunate that in this instance, she did. I’m not sure why wanting to do my job the right way means I’m looking to “get my 15 minutes of fame” or that my career will “crash and burn.”

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