For those of us who watched the media in action following the 1999 killings at Columbine High School, coverage of yesterday's football matchup between Platte Canyon High School, site of last week's slaying of student Emily Keyes (pictured), and Colorado Springs Christian School provided another dose of deja vu.
At Columbine, reports surfaced about bullying by the school's athletes, not to mention an excessive focus on sports cited by Westword writer Alan Prendergast in this 2000 piece. Suggestions that such factors directly fueled the violence that erupted on campus are overly simplistic -- yet so was a lot of the reporting about Columbine football games the next season, when the team marched to a state championship. Article after article implied that a Columbine win would speed the healing process, and reporting about a post-victory pep rally certainly didn't contradict this notion. Neither did Columbine principal (and former baseball coach) Frank DeAngelis, whose rally address included the declaration, "This team never quit. It's about not giving up, and that's what Columbine High School represents."
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Jock culture played no part in the Platte Canyon tragedy, which was caused by an adult outsider, Duane Morrison, and not disgruntled students. But the themes detailed above still dominated reporting about last night's game. The online headline of this Rocky Mountain News article reads "Playing For Emily" -- an appropriate phrase, since each player wore a sticker bearing Keyes' name on his helmet. However, the head on the edition that landed in my driveway read, "Healing Between the Hash Marks" -- an overstatement that's borderline offensive. Moreover, both editions included a subhead -- "Scoreboard didn't say it, but attitude at game did: Community is moving on" -- that implied the worst is over for the citizens of Bailey less than a week after Platte Canyon was thrust into the national headlines.
The Denver Post's story on the subject took a similar approach; its headline was "Game Aids Healing for Family, Bailey." As for local TV stations, channels 9 and 7 led with the game during their 10 p.m. broadcasts last night, while Channel 4 made it the third package of the evening. In each case, healing via football was the touchstone.
Of course, experts in the psychiatric field, as well as anyone who's experienced grief on a personal level, understands that true healing is a long and very personal process that doesn't happen at the drop of a hat, or the blast of a whistle to signal a kickoff. To claim otherwise does a disservice to viewers, readers and the people who have healing to do. -- Michael Roberts