Collision with UGA Photographer Highlights Conversation On Sideline Safety

Chamberlain Smith, a photographer with the University of Georgia Athletic Association, was knocked unconscious Saturday after a sideline collision during the second quarter of the Georgia-Auburn game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Georgia running back Brian Herrien was pushed out of bounds and crashed into the photographer. After being assessed at a local hospital, Smith gave an update on her condition on Facebook. She said she walked away with “nothing more than a concussion and some bruises.”

The accident has brought light to a conversation the sports media industry has been discussing for years. 

Marvin James, a sports anchor and reporter for 13 WMAZ in Macon, was standing right next to Smith when she was knocked unconscious. He told Grady Newsource that he and Smith were discussing sideline safety after a close call before she was hit.

“A play came right to the sideline in front of us. Demetrius Robertson caught a pass right in front of us,” James said. “And then I said, “Wow that was pretty close, and she said, ‘too close.’ We laughed about it and talked about how you have to be vigilant and keep your head on a swivel.”

Two plays later, Smith was knocked unconscious.

“It was a loud thud…a loud sound… I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. I didn’t realize she was literally right there beside me,” James said.

He said he followed the play with his camera as it went out of bounds. 

“And then I saw her right there beside me, lying there lifeless,” James said. 

After many realized Smith had been hit, he described the scene of complete silence on the sidelines and in the stadium.

‘It Could Have Been Any Of Us’

James said media on the sideline quickly became concerned. 

“We knew that could have been any of us,” James said. “We’ve all had incidents where we narrowly escaped.”

Media typically form two lines on the sideline for larger games.

Still photographers often kneel to clean up the background in their photos, said Mark E. Johnson, a photojournalism professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

James said, this, in turn, made Smith more defenseless when the play was moving towards her. 

Chamberlain was kneeling. One eye closed. One eye in a viewfinder,” James said. “When someone comes at you 60 miles per hour, there’s not much you can do about it.”

Sideline Safety

Grady Newsource spoke to veteran sports photographers and reporters for tips about staying safe on the sidelines. The first is to pay attention to your peripheral vision. 

“Always watch your surroundings. Watch the ball and be in tune,” James said. 

James said part of media’s job these days is photography, and the other could be being on our phone.

“We’re on the phone. We’re tweeting. We’re taking notes,” James said. “Always watch your surroundings.”

James advises to make sure not to distract yourself when a play is in motion. Secondly, always have an exit plan. Be ready to get up and run. 

In the case where Chamberlain Smith was hit, she did what she was trained to do, according to Johnson, one of her former professors. Smith had one knee down and one foot down, so she could be ready to get up and run if a play came at her, Johnson said. 

James said if you see a play coming toward you, be ready to turn your back and run away. He said even if photographers follow all of these tips, like Smith, they are still chances of being injured.

“Sometimes you can do all the right things, and you still get hurt,” James said.

Ashlyn Webb is a senior journalism major in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and an international affairs major at the School of Public and International Affairs. 



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