There are many stresses to my job: deadlines, scheduling 3 assignments in 2 hours, dealing with unhappy subjects, trying to get a hold of subjects for stories, coming up with cover art every week, deadlines, updating the photo galleries online, deadlines, i could go on and on.
Dealing with the emotions of parents at a high school football game is part of my job. I generally try to tune out a lot of the “noise” at football games and concentrate on the action. Last nights televised game between Columbine and Bear Creek was no exception. Emotions were running high in a typical rivalry.
Columbine quarterback Danny Spond was having an off night. He had fumbled the ball a handful of times in the second quarter just before the end of the half. He seemed to struggle throughout the third quarter. In the fourth quarter Spond was having many of the same problems he had earlier in the game. He was also suffering some brutal hits from the Bear Creek defense.
When he finally stepped off the field late in the fourth quarter he nearly collapsed. Spond was quickly rushed to the bench and things would quickly get worse from there. He was fading in and out of consciousness. Coaches acted quickly and moved him from the bench to the ground and called 911. His jersey and pads were cut off of him while waiting for paramedics to arrive and his feet were raised. Spond was eventually taken from the field by ambulance and transported to Swedish hospital appearing to be suffering from a concussion.
During the time all of this was happening a Fox Sports Net camera crew had moved in to the area where coaches were attending to Spond. They moved in very close and predictably emotions got the better of the coaches culminating in a physically confrontation between the camera man and staff. I chose to stay well away from the action but not far enough away that my 300 mm lens would not reach.
I shot a few photos of the confrontation and moved on to focus my attention on the injured player. At this time I was verbally confronted by an angry woman. This woman insisted that I not take photos of the injured 17 year old Danny Spond. I tried my best to politely explain that I was doing my job and that I was not breaking the law. I also explained that she was not allowed to touch me or my equipment after she attempted to block my view. This was not a good enough answer and she attempted to flag down a police officer to keep me from doing my job. The police officer calmly explained that there was nothing he could do to keep me from making pictures of what was happening.
I made several photos of Spond strapped to the backboard being taken to the ambulance and then made several photos of his teammates overcome with emotion. After the game ended, I felt like I needed to try and patch things up with the woman who was upset with me. In hindsight I probably should have just let it go but I was trying to be compassionate about what had happened and also trying to maintain the relationships with our readers who we depend on. Thats when things got ugly.
The woman began to yell at me about being disrespectful and how he was a 17 year old kid and on and on. I calmly tried to tell her that I was just trying to apologize and that the photos would never run in the paper. (The Denver Post ran similar photos in an online photo gallery) It’s the last thing she said to me that really makes me angry. I’m going to paraphrase here but she said that I didn’t know what it was like to live through Columbine. My jaw dropped open and I walked away.
Let’s make some things very clear here. I was a senior in high school when it happened. Its also 10 years later and we were at a high school football game. I have had to cover every dedication, memorial run, memorial walk and anniversary for the last 5 years. Don’t tell me I don’t understand. If you lived in Colorado on April 20th, 1999, we all lived through Columbine.
Photojournalists tend to be the type of people who run toward things most people are trying to get away from. This is part of what separates journalists from the public. And this is also part of what many people will never understand. I believe I have an obligation to our readers to capture images that tell stories regardless of positive or negative content. Its better to have made the photo and not use it, than to need the photo and not have it. I told the woman I would not publish the photos in the paper and I believe that is probably the right thing to do. But it is my decision not to publish it, not hers.