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When sports and serious news collide

 By Bob Sullivan, msnbc.com

Sports are supposed to be a fun distraction from the heavy realities of life, but sometimes, the news is so big that it intrudes even on major sporting events – forcing sportcasters to become sober newscasters in an instant.

Sunday night, those watching ESPN’s coverage of the Mets-Phillies baseball game learned about the death of Osama bin Laden from announcer Dan Shulman when the ninth inning began. As the inning played out, color commentators Bobby Valentine and Orel Hershiser couldn’t avoid mentioning the growing chorus of “USA” chants among the crowd, as news spread around the stadium. It was a spine-tingling moment.

Fans at the game between the Mets and the Phillies chant USA as word spreads about the death of Osama bin Laden.

At the same time, on the radio, WFAN Mets broadcaster Howie Rose gave listeners the news – but they must have already suspected something important had happened, as the “USA” chants were clearly audible even before Rose deftly slipped out of his jovial play-by-play calling and adopted the grave tone of wire reporter to explain the news. The audio can be heard here:


Sports are such an essential part of American life that it shouldn’t be surprising when sportscasts and news events overlap. Still, the moments can be chilling. Here’s a timeline of famous intersections between sports and news.

1980: John Lennon’s death
“Remember this is just a football game.”
Howard Cosell keeps it all in perspective during a Monday Night Football game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots on Dec. 8. In the game’s waning moments, he tells viewers that “the most famous, perhaps, of all of the Beatles” is dead.

brought to you by Tom LaPorte, Top Line Productions TLP John Lennon was announced dead by Howard Cosell at a football game

1989: World Series interrupted by quake
“I’ll tell you what, we’re having an earthquake.”
The San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s were about to begin Game 3 of their Bay Area World Series when disaster stuck on Oct. 17.  Initially, the signal from the game is cut. When backup audio-only broadcast is resumed, Al Michaels says, “I don’t know if we’re on the air. We’re in commercial, I guess.” The rumbling begins at about 4:30.

So what does it take to shut Tim McCarver up? An earthquake.

1994: NBA finals interrupted by a white Bronco
“With a minute and 40 seconds to go in this first half, we will send it to NBC News.”
As the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets battled near the end of the first half of Game 5, O.J. Simpson took police on an epic car chase around Southern California on June 17. For a while, NBC showed a split screen, with the game in a small box superimposed over the chase. With under two minutes remaining in the first half, Marv Albert kicks the broadcast to NBC’s Tom Brokaw. In a DVD set of the series released later, and in this YouTube video starting at 2:30, the game commentary is eerily silent.)

The commentary of this game was interrupted by OJ Simpson's car chase. Boxscore http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/199406170NYK.html Check my playlist for more games

2001: Hockey game paused for presidential speech
“There were bigger things to worry about” – announcer Jim Jackson
The days following Sept. 11 brought many surprising moments of unity. On Sept. 20, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers squared off at First Union Center in Philadelphia for a typical, brawl-filled pre-season hockey game. But during the second intermission, President George Bush addressed the nation, and the speech was shown on the stadium scoreboard. The bitter rivals stayed on the ice to watch. The speech ran long, well past the time when the third period was set to begin; everyone watched until the end. Then, the game was called and teams exchanged handshakes usually reserved for the end of a playoff series.

Nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Flyers & Rangers meet at the then-First Union Center for a preseason game. It was called after President Bush's speech was shown.

2011: WWE winner tells crowd bin Laden is dead
“Compromised to a permanent end.”
Professional wrestler John Cena, moments after winning the WWE Championship in Tampa on May 1, tells the crowd – and viewers at home – that bin Laden has been killed.