John Lennon’s Death Was Almost Not Announced On “Monday Night Football” (Video)
(note: the story really starts at the 3 minute mark)
Today is the 30 year anniversary of John Lennon's death, and ESPN paid tribute to the legendary member of The Beatles with this fascinating report on "Outside The Lines." It provides great insight into the moral conundrums sometimes faced by journalists, and how one iconic announcer, Howard Cosell, almost nixed the now-legendary announcement on ABC's "Monday Night Football."
If you don't have time to watch the video (you should make time), here's a very abridged version of how the story goes.
Alan Weiss, a local news producer in New York for ABC at the time, was injured in a motorcycle accident in Central Park (his injuries were minor). He was brought to Roosevelt Hospital, the same hospital where Lennon was taken to after his death. Weiss happened to be in the room next to Lennon.
Weiss overheard a police officer in the hallway say, "Can you believe it? John Lennon." Weiss probed, and soon discovered that John Lennon had indeed died. He then called his bosses at ABC in New York and relayed the message, which set off a chain of phone calls until it reached the higher ups. ABC knew they had to break the story nationally--but had two quarters left in the game to decide how.
At the hospital, while doctors were trying to bring Lennon back to life, Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono was at first, understandably, distraught. She pleaded with the doctors not to make the news public, so her son Sean wouldn't hear about his father's death on national television. That wheel was, however, already spinning.
Meanwhile, the football game was being aired nationally on ABC, a matchup between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. With the game tied towards the end of 4th quarter, 13-13, and British kicker John Smith (who appears in the OTL piece) set to attempt a game winning field goal for Miami, the following exchange between Cosell and Frank Gifford occurred:
Cosell: Fellas I just don't know. I'd like your opinion. I can't see this game situation allowing for that newsflash. Can you?
Gifford: Absolutely I can see it
Cosell: You can?
Gifford: You betcha. If we know it, we've got to do it.
Gifford: I don't. Don't hang on it. It's a tragic moment and it's going to shake up the world.
The rest is history, as Cosell made the announcement that would, as Gifford said, shake up the world. When we talk about journalism, we talk about amoralism. If Weiss hadn't made that call, the story could have been leaked by a nurse or a cop just as easily. And there couldn't possibly have been a more fitting stage or way to pay tribute to a man of Lennon's magnitude.
Fortunately, Lennon's son Sean wasn't watching MNF when the announcement was made. The kick was blocked, the game went into overtime, but all anyone will ever remember from that night is Cosell's shocking announcement that almost never was.