This year’s Masters Tournament was one for the ages. Tiger Woods mounted one of the most inspirational comebacks in sports history, winning one for the old guys. As a Georgia native, I’m proud to see Augusta National on display in all its glory (not to mention seeing Woods hit golf balls manufactured in my hometown).
But one of the strangest stories surrounding the Masters took place in metro Atlanta during Sunday’s final round. A line of storms threatened north Georgia. The storms threatened to pack such a wallop that Augusta National decided to start the final round early in the morning so that play would finish before the worst weather hit Augusta.
One tornado touched down between Atlanta and Macon, and as the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for another location closer to Atlanta, the local CBS affiliate took to the airwaves during Masters coverage to report on the danger. CBS46 meterologist Ella Dorsey explained the warnings while the station went with a split screen showing the Masters live alongside Dorsey’s reporting.
Fans of the Masters didn’t take too kindly to the interruption, even though the warning threatened one of north Georgia’s most populous counties:
— States Clawson (@StatesClawson) April 14, 2019
I understand there’s tornado warnings going on and CBS needs to tell us. But send me a text or something and put the masters back on
— John Theus (@jtheus71) April 14, 2019
Dorsey says she even received death threats. That’s right: DEATH THREATS. For covering a weather emergency.
For a bit of contrast, when the storm hit the Macon area in central Georgia, the affiliate there went on the air to tell viewers to join their meteorologist on Facebook Live so that their broadcast wouldn’t interfere with Masters coverage. It still didn’t stop folks from lashing out at meteorologist Ben Jones.
It turns out the concerns of the meteorologists were warranted, with over 40 confirmed tornadoes across eight states.
Dorsey addressed the death threats on Twitter that afternoon:
To everyone sending me death threats right now: you wouldn’t be saying a damn thing if a tornado was ravaging your home this afternoon. Lives are more important than 5 minutes of golf. I will continue to repeat that if and when we cut into programming to keep people safe.
— Ella Dorsey (@Ella__Dorsey) April 14, 2019
She later spoke about it on air:
Maybe it’s hard to fathom sports fans getting so upset over missing part of an event, but it has happened before. In November 1968, NBC cut away from NFL coverage to show the movie Heidi, a move that has gone down in infamy.
Look, Masters fans are passionate. I get the excitement because I stay glued to the television all day after I get home from church on Masters Sunday, and I don’t watch any other golf tournaments. But I don’t see how anyone could not think that these people are out of line over threatening a weather professional for simply doing her job.
One public safety expert told the Weather Channel that she understands fans’ ire, but the work that people like Dorsey does saves lives.
Dr. Laura Myers, director of the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama, can relate.
“I’m a huge Masters fan and was watching Saturday” when Alabama stations began coverage of the tornadoes there, Myers said. “I knew it was going to make people mad.”
“You can understand the psychology of people wanting to see something and getting frustrated,” she told weather.com in an interview Tuesday.
Still, Myers said, her research has shown the need for live TV warnings and how effective they are.
“They really do save people,” she said.
The station’s news director stands behind his weather team and their decision. Steve Doerr told the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s Rodney Ho:
“The venom around this was insane,” he texted me, “even by social media standards.” He had to take phone calls, too.
This situation is a prime example of the toxicity of social media. Dorsey is doing her job trying to keep the people of one of the country’s largest media markets safe, and a bunch of “keyboard tough guy trolls” — to use Doerr’s creative phrasing — decide to go too far in expressing their dislike for weather coverage.
Look, it’s easy to hide behind a keyboard or phone screen and fire off at someone you don’t like for any reason. It’s easy to be reckless and stay stupid, ugly, and hurtful stuff. But none of that makes it right, especially when someone like Ella Dorsey is simply trying to do her job and keep people safe. Knowing how terribly some folks treated Dorsey should make us all think before we lash out on social media.