Were Gruesome Hockey Photos Suppressed?

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By: Jay DeFoore

(Photo District News) On March 8, Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks suckerpunched Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore, jumped on his back and drove his face into the ice, breaking a vertebra in Moore’s neck and giving him a concussion.

Moore lay motionless for several minutes, with a bright red pool of blood slowly seeping out onto the ice.

The hit was brutal and shocking. Bertuzzi was fined and suspended by the league and may now face criminal charges. It was the biggest news event in hockey all year, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at some of the sports photo feeds.

The pictures were highly conspicuous in their absence on the Getty Images Web site, for instance. The agency bills itself as a wire service, but it is also the official photographer and photo distributor of the NHL. The agency didn’t have one of its own photographers at the game.

Vancouver photographer Jeff Vinnick caught images of the aftermath of Bertuzzi’s hit, including shots of Moore being carried off the ice in a stretcher. But he wasn’t allowed to distribute the pictures since he was shooting for the Canuck’s that night, and he says the “unwritten” rules of his deal with the team require him to seek approval from the team before releasing any controversial imagery.

Vancouver Canucks spokesman Chris Brumwell says the team, which owns the photos, determined them to be too “sensitive in nature” to release. When asked if Getty had inquired about distributing the photos, Brumwell said “no, they did not.”

Vinnick, who sometimes shoots Canucks games for Getty rather than for the team, says he would have transmitted the pictures if he were on assignment for Getty when the Bertuzzi incident occurred. But that’s not to say the pictures would have appeared on Getty’s Web site. Brumwell says the team would have had conversations with Getty and NHL Images about whether or not to distribute the photos.

“Because Getty is under the arm of the NHL, the team might have had a problem with that and there might have been problems [if Getty distributed the pictures],” Vinnick says.

In the end, the only pictures related to the event on Getty’s Web site were those of a contrite Bertuzzi crying at a press conference two days later.

Reuters also posted no photos of the incident, although for different reasons. Reuters stringer Lyle Stafford was assigned to cover the March 8 game but he left the stadium before the hit took place late in the third period.

Gary Hershorn, Reuters’ director of photography for North America, says he does not require his West Coast freelancers to stay for the full three periods. Photographers say that has to do with time zone differences — West coast games end after the deadlines of East Coast papers. But it also has to do with money. “For freelancers, rates don’t pay enough to stay the whole game,” Stafford says. (Hershorn says there are plenty of NHL games that the wire services don’t cover at all).

The only wire service that distributed pictures of the incident was the Associated Press, which picked up pictures from Chuck Stoody of the Canadian Press (CP). Shooting the game with a long lens from the broadcast booth, Stoody captured the gruesome scene of Moore laying on the ice as well as him getting carried off on the stretcher.

“I focused on [the action] after Bertuzzi jumped on [Moore] and there was a pile of people sliding down the ice,” Stoody says. “I had two frames of that and two frames of Moore lying on the ice with his trainer helping him. Then a crowd gathered and I couldn’t see him. Later when they put him on a stretcher I only got a glimpse of him.”

Stoody’s take is a testament to CP’s policy of never leaving a game before the final horn sounds.

“We’re there to cover the game from the start to the finish and tell the story of the game,” says Graeme Roy, CP’s national photo editor.

Roy says the switch to digital has made it easier for photographers to stay for the whole game while transmitting during breaks in the action. Due to the ease of transmission, Roy says photo consumers have come to expect more from the picture agencies.

“Now you’re expected to tell the story of the game, not just take a few action pictures,” Roy says. “That has refocused how we cover hockey games. There’s no excuse for not getting pictures out from the third period.”

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