A TV trailblazer, a Pope and a football casualty
As 2022 ended, a Pope emeritus (Benedict) and a glass-ceiling breaking broadcaster (Barbara Walters) died. Asian American Filipinos were touched by both, and I was going to comment on their passing. I was also going to update you on what the new Purdue president, the Hong Kong immigrant Dr. Mung Chiang, did in response to a Purdue NW chancellor’s racist Asian slur.
That was the agenda, but now all anyone is talking about is the life of Buffalo Bills professional football player Damar Hamlin.
If you were like many Americans, you were watching Monday Night Football. Some out of cultural entertainment habit, some because the game really meant something for both the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, whom many regard as the best team currently in football.
But in the first quarter something happened that you rarely see. Hamlin, a defensive back, stopped a ball carrier who ran high into his chest. Hamlin absorbed the force and tackled the player down. That’s normal.
Hamlin stood up, then promptly collapsed, and fell backward.
That’s not entertainment. And that’s when we all blew the whistle—on football.
Suddenly it was life and death. Concussion? No this was something different. The announcers talked about CPR being administered. Later, we find there was a defibrillator used. One of the docs on cable TV looking at the same game conjectured on what we all saw; that the blunt force to Hamlin’s chest caused ventricular fibrillation, essentially your heart runs amok and is unable to pump blood through the body causing a drop in blood pressure so extreme Hamlin collapsed.
For the next few hours the nation was stunned. This isn’t football. The game was suspended and there was no further play. How could there be? But that wouldn’t have been the case five or ten years ago when the belief was “the show must go on.”
But things have changed. Everyone now realizes that football is more dangerous than we think. Is that why we like it? Maybe we should reconsider making it safer. These players are humans, not gladiators.
This is a message that needs to trickle down to college, and on to the high school and youth levels, where I played and had one scary moment.
In my day, they taught you to lead with your head. Use your helmet. One time I did and blacked out. No one administered or cared for me. I shrugged it off because I was taught to be football tough. But I came to my senses. I quit the team and never played again.
It was like walking away from the football brotherhood. At the pro level these days, the brotherhood is real. You saw it on players’ faces as medical staff administered to Hamlin. They all know how dangerous the game can be.
“I cherish (life) every second that I can, you know, every second of every day,” Hamlin said in a November interview, when he talked about praying with his fellow defensive backs holding their hands and grabbing hard. “Because you never know when the last day could be that you get to experience something like this, so I’m cherishing every moment I can.”
Hamlin, was not considered a “star,” yet. He started the season as a backup, then took over for an injured player and has emerged as a Bills favorite. And now he is the one player all of America roots for.
As a broadcast journalist, I was partial to Walter Cronkite, but it was Barbara Walters with whom I shared an affinity.
I was trying to break into a field where there were few if any Asians. People could stand watching the character Hop Sing on “Bonanza,” played by actor Victon Sen Yung. Or the chaffeur in the TV show “Burke’s Law” played by Leon Lontoc. But would they watch me, an Asian American Filipino male, read the TV news?
They definitely would watch a white woman first, and that’s why Walters was a trailblazer not just for all the women who followed (including Connie Chung and Lisa Ling), but for men like me as well.
I reported the news on TV in Dallas (where I worked with Scott Pelley) and in San Francisco, where I worked in a newsroom headed by another trailblazing woman, Sylvia Chase. I also got to anchor in Washington, DC television, as well as nationally on NPR, where I was the first Asian American and Filipino to host “All Things Considered.”
In most situations, I was the only Filipino on the set or in the newsroom.
I never met Walters, but I admired what she did to present the news in a more interesting way. Detractors would call it “infotainment.” But it was just Walter’s style. It was plenty hard and aggressive. She would get at a revealing fact by asking questions few would dare ask in an interview. That’s how she made news, and then she presented it in a way people could consume it easily. That’s not infotainment. It was a ratings strategy and for that Walters was paid handsomely.
What I find most interesting is that after she brought women to the anchor desk, and brought diversity to staid network news programming, Walters took the talk show format and made conversation a news medium with “The View.” She created it when she was 67. That’s inspirational.When she died last Friday at 93, “The View” may be the most enduring thing she created. I will miss Barbara Walters.
Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict, on the other hand, I won’t miss. In fact, he could have learned something from how Walters shook up the old boy’s network in TV news. But he didn’t shake the old boy’s network of the church. Not like he should have.
Still, as pope emeritus, Benedict was top of the fold as they say in newspaper front-page lingo. Over Walters. As an Asian American Filipino, almost like a dutiful subconscious reaction, I went to mass on Sunday online for one of the few times during the pandemic. I knew, it was out of respect for Pope Benedict XVI. Altar boy guilt? Maybe. But the lead in the Times story pretty much said it all.
“Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, a quiet scholar of diamond hard intellect who spent much of his life enforcing church doctrine and defending tradition before shocking the Roman Catholic world by becoming the first pope in six centuries to resign, died on Saturday. He was 95.” Almost right, but only if you knew “defending tradition” also included his shameful failure to act when it came to the international, world-wide sex abuse scandals of the church.
This is not to say he did nothing. But he stopped short of holding bishops accountable for their shell game practice of moving and hiding abusive priests. Benedict’s “diamond intellect” was more hard-assed and showed little compassion for the abused. Instead he upheld the old boy’s network and allowed the bishops to protect the abusers. It’s cost the church billions of dollars, plus the trust and faith of followers lost.
And for that Benedict dies in shame
Since Dec. 10, a racist slur spoken by Thomas Keon Chancellor of Purdue University Northwest has been inadequately addressed. A reprimand from the board of trustees is not enough. Time for the university president to act.
But if you saw my previous column, you won’t be surprised, by the action of the new president of Purdue, Dr. Mung Chiang, who took over for Mitch Daniels, the former Republican governor who was Purdue’s president the last ten years.
What did the Asian American immigrant do after a member of his leadership team has been accused of anti-Asian racism. Nothing.The old boy’s network is real and dies hard. Welcome to 2023.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for Inquirer.net’s North American Bureau.