As a kid, I used to get a special thrill from the intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports — especially the tagline about “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Last night, however, NBC apparently decided that “the discomfort of heartbreaking tears” trumped both of those elements — or at least that was the widespread response to an interview of Bode Miller that the network aired after he tied for the Bronze medal in the super-G race in the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia.
Intentional or not, reporter Christin Cooper’s line of questioning seemed designed specifically to activate the tear ducts of the veteran skiier, whose brother Chelone, a professional snowboarder, died last year at the age of 29. Perhaps just as disconcerting, NBC chose to film Miller in extreme closeup — the better to detect even the slightest hint of waterworks — and air the taped interview in its entirety during prime time. (Nope, nobody in the NBC newsroom watched the footage and thought, “Maybe we can spare everyone a little ickiness and cut away early.”)
Miller, actually, brought up his late sibling at the start of the Q&A, noting, “My brother passing away, I really wanted to come back here and race, you know, the way he sensed it.” Cooper followed up by asking, “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here. What’s going through your mind?”
“A lot, obviously,” the skiier responded, his voice beginning to break with emotion. “Just a long struggle coming here, and just a tough year. And uh…”
Cooper then continued to ask about Miller’s recent loss: “I know you wanted to be here with Chelly, really experiencing these games. How much does it mean to you to come up with a great performance for him? And was it for him?”
“Um, I mean, I don’t know if it’s really for him, but I really wanted to come here and I guess, make myself proud,” Miller said tearfully.
Cooper then asked her third consecutive question centered around Chelone’s death and Miller’s feelings about winning an Olympic medal in the absence of his brother: “And you’re lookin’ up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it just looks like you’re just talkin’ to somebody. What’s going on there?”
At this point, Miller doubled over crying, as the NBC cameras continued to roll.
While NBC and Cooper took plenty of heat on social media overnight, Miller gave a followup interview with Matt Lauer on Today defending the reporter and former skiier. “I have known Christin a long time, and she’s a sweetheart of a person. I know she didn’t mean to push,” he said. “I don’t think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she realized it, it was too late. I don’t blame her at all.” Miller also took to Twitter to reiterate his support of Cooper.
Still, several questions remain in the wake of the interview: Did Cooper ask one too many questions about Miller’s loss, or was she within her right to pursue the line of questioning as far as she pleased? Should NBC have considered not airing the interview in its entirety? Did the extreme closeup of Miller’s face make the whole experience even more uncomfortable? And lastly, should networks be of the mind that — when covering sporting events — the actual sports themselves provides enough drama on their own, without having to mine the personal struggles of its participants for added emotion?