It never ceases to amaze me: how a news story starts and then takes off. Every story that you see on the local TV news, heard on the radio or read about in the newspaper has to start somewhere. Usually, with an announcement of some sort. Sometimes, with a simple exchange between two people.
The latter is how the latest controversy engulfing Steeler Nation began. The news that linebacker James Harrison was not going to the White House and the debate that ensued has been something to see. Whether I watch ESPN, hop on the web or listen to national sports talk radio, it seems everybody has an opinion as to why Harrison is not going to the White House. Some call it political while others think its just stupid. Whatever the reason, it has become a topic de jour that will last through the Steelers Super Bowl visit.
But it began very innocently enough with a conversation. I was at Oakmont Country Club, preparing to host the Legends for Charity Golf Classic. Coaches Dave Wannstedt and Mike Tomlin have put together this event for St. Jude Hospital which does wonders for children with cancer and their families. Each year, Coach Tomlin brings a player along to greet those who have come to support – and this year, it was Super Bowl hero James Harrison.
Seeing James, and having a photographer with me, I thought it would be a good chance to ask James about supporting this event as well as getting ready for the upcoming season. The only reason the White House came up in our discussion was the fact that the team was invited earlier that day.
We talked briefly before going on camera and that is when he told me of his decision. I thought he was kidding but he was dead serious … and even explained why. I said to him would he be willing to go on camera and say this … and he said yes. What followed was the comment that launched one thousand columns.
I have to tell you, when we ran the story Friday night at 11, we all thought he was kidding and would eventually change his mind. Little did we realize that once our story was put on our website, thepittsburghchannel.com, the world would start to weigh in. It started with stories from the Associated Press, then made sports blogs across the nation. By Sunday, it was in the New York Times and WTAE started getting calls from ABC and CNN wanting the videotape.
By the time Monday rolled around, Iw as sitting on the couch and ESPN was doing the story – and credited WTAE. That’s what made the story so much for me was to see our station getting credit and attribution for this story. While it may not make a difference in Pittsburgh, it makes WTAE important around the country.
Whether he goes or not, the story will certainly be part of the tale of the Super Bowl Champs visit to the White House on Thursday. Meanwhile, back here, I will always wonder: what if James and I had not had that brief conversation? How different his week might have been.