When NBA player LeBron James cut his head falling into a photographer during game four of the NBA Finals it was simply an accident and part of the game. However, no one seemed concerned about the photographer. Even my first thought was ” I hope the photographer has a rubber lens cover over his lens.”
You see it is an NBA rule that all still photographers must have rubber lens hoods on their lens to work on the sidelines. The rubber hoods are a safety precaution to prevent players from cutting themselves if they collide with a photographer’s lens.
In James’ case I don’t think it would have made a difference because it appeared to me that he hit the camera body, not the lens.
After James fell on the NBA cameraman, many fans and a few pro athletes tweeted that the cameraman should have moved. That’s crazy. Where was he going to go? There were seats behind him that cost thousands of dollars holding fans, a still photographer on his left side and the goal on his right side.
During NBA games still photographers have to sit on the floor with their legs crossed in a very small space. Network and arena photographers have to sit on a small stool with small wheels. Sitting on the floor in that position during an entire game leads to major leg cramps and paresthesias, nerves in the foot stop working properly, causing an abnormal sensation.
In the 1990’s the basketball fans’ seats were not as close to photographers as they are now. On many occasions I was able to roll out of the way to avoid being hit or stepped on. That is not the case today when photographing some NBA, ACC or SEC basketball games.
During a SEC Tournament game in Nashville, TN, LSU’s Glenn “Big Baby” Davis fell on me and four other photographers. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. However, that was not the case with my last ACC basketball game in 2013. During the game, the knee and foot of a Georgia Tech player hit me in the head as he attempted to jump over me. His other foot caught the side of the camera which some how drove my thin camera strap under the fingernail of my trigger finger on my right hand. That resulted in pain, a bad sprain and an infection.
As a photojournalist who has photographed hundreds of professional and college events both nationally and internationally, it is a known risk among sports photographers that at some point, you may get hit by either an athlete, fan, animal, baseball, baseball bat, football, softball, mascot, race car, bowling ball, hockey puck, glass, bull feces, bird droppings, boxer’s blood and spit, beer from a drunk fan, bitten by a snake or huge bug and my all time favorite, puke from a drunk NASCAR fan.
That does not include getting stepped on by an NBA and NCAA official, avoiding getting beat up by Philadelphia Eagle Fans, cussed out by a losing coach, cussed out by players, cussed out by a groupie because you will not give an athlete her number, cussed out by a preacher’s wife because you didn’t photograph her cheerleader daughter, receiving a two page letter explaining why your photo of a quarterback sack should have been credited to his son and chasing a Yankee fan who grabbed one of your cameras after the World Series.
In case you are wondering, all of those things happen to me except chasing the Yankee fan. That happened to a Sports Illustrated photographer after the 1996 World Series in Yankee Stadium.
As for my stolen equipment, I never caught the photographer who stole my Nikon camera and lens during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
In 2006, I was knocked out by a line drive baseball while photographing the Atlanta Braves vs. the Philadelphia Phillies. It would have killed me if it had been a few inches higher on my neck. Within seconds of being hit, Atlanta Braves trainer Jeff Porter was at my side with ice and asking the usual questions he asks players that are hit in the head by a baseball.
So if your goal is to become a major league sports photographer, make sure you not only have a superb grasp of the photographic arts, but also are in excellent health and have great insurance.
So when a 6′ 8” LeBron James falls on you, or a hockey puck comes whizzing at your head, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s all part of a sports photographer’s territory.