As a professional journalist, I'm not usually in the habit of cheering those who decline to speak with the press.
But I was touched by the story of former University of South Florida football player Nick Schuyler, after reading a recent St. Petersburg Times story indicating he still hasn't decided to share his story with the media about what happened in February when a boat containing him and three friends capsized in the Gulf of Mexico.
Schuyler was found after two days in which the disappearance of the men — all football players, two on professional teams — became media-dominating national news. His friends' bodies were never found.
We have grown used to seeing participants in stories this sad and sadder paraded before our eyes every morning on national television, recounting their tales with a certain hollow-eyed stage fright. It's a process so regular, we have come to expect it, growing vaguely annoyed when the Today show takes a few extra days to land a sit-down with the star of the latest video-fueled tragedy.
But sometimes, it seems, these horrors are trivialized in the telling, slotted in between stories about the Octomom and Britney Spears, right before a commercial for American Idol. In a world where so many are willing to endure any humiliation for a burst of fame and fortune, it is rare to find someone at the center of a white-hot story who can resist the pull of TV cameras, pushy producers and the world's infatuation with celebrity, however earned.
I once felt this way about pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who kept the world waiting for days after successfully crash-landing a US Airways plane in the Hudson River, saving 155 people. As much as I wanted to know what that scene was like in the cockpit as Sully realized what he would have to attempt, part of me knew the story would feel a little smaller in the telling.
Once Sully related his story to 60 Minutes, he seemed to be everywhere: a People magazine story, President Barack Obama's inauguration, the Super Bowl pregame, a popular Facebook page, an ad about overdue books at the public library (he had four library books on him during the crash). It is the debilitating nature of our modern media structure; once it grabs hold of a captivating tale, it squeezes, probes and repackages it all endlessly until the moment is reflected back on a thousand platforms, each less compelling than the last.
And now, Schuyler faces that decision; when or if to share the details of his life's worst moments with the world, and cope with the aftermath. According to our story, grief and trauma may be holding his tongue, which is unfortunate.
As a journalist, I can't help a hunger for the details his tale would provide, and I'm sure the St. Petersburg Times has reporters working hard to get his story. But is it possible some stories may be too disturbing to share; even in a media world where debilitating personal revelations have become a potent fuel for our pop culture?
Keeping an eye on that boundary, thanks to folks like Schuyler, may be a good thing for all of us.
Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or [email protected] See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.