Nothing Prepared Soto for Tragedy

Being a football sideline television reporter usually entails such mundane tasks as interviewing a coach at halftime or getting information about a player’s sprained ankle or twisted knee.

What FSN West’s Lindsay Soto had to deal with at Sunday’s Avenger-New York Dragon game at Staples Center is something no other sideline reporter had faced.

A player died.

Soto knows how to do her job. Last year she won a local Emmy Award. But nothing could have prepared her for what happened to 300-pound Avenger Al Lucas.

Soto is still reluctant to talk about what happened. For one thing, she doesn’t want attention drawn to her because of a tragedy. For another, it all remains a haunting experience.

“I’m a human being first, a reporter second,” Soto said.

Lucas was injured five minutes into the game, and emergency procedures were performed on him for 30 minutes before he was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.


Although the team did not confirm the death until after the game and after the television coverage had ended, Soto knew it was a serious situation. She reported that AFL Commissioner Dave Baker and Avenger owner Casey Wasserman were meeting behind closed doors at halftime. But she avoided the seriousness of Lucas’ condition.

“My biggest fear was saying something that would alarm his family,” Soto said. “Maybe they weren’t watching, but someone who was could have called them.

“I didn’t know anything for sure, and I wasn’t about to speculate. I was going to err on the side of caution.”

The local FSN West 2 telecast was scheduled to be replayed Sunday night but was canceled.

The Sunday afternoon telecast did not get a mark in the ratings book, meaning it was watched in fewer than 5,000 homes in the L.A. market. But relatives could have been watching the telecast in Macon, Ga., on DirecTV.

“It was the team’s right to determine what information it wanted out and when,” Soto said. “This was not a scoop anyone would want. It was not something that would earn you a pat on the back for breaking a story.”

Because TV announcers Bill Macdonald and John Jackson had access to Soto, they knew they were dealing with a serious situation.

But radio announcers Larry Kahn and Troy West were not aware why the halftime was extended four to five minutes.

“You know it might be a serious injury,” Kahn said. “That happens in football. But a death? That doesn’t happen.”

Widow Shows Strength

Lucas’ widow, De’Shondra, made a guest appearance on Fred Roggin’s KMPC (1540) radio show Thursday and came across as a strong, religious woman who is coping as well as anyone could expect.

She said that because both her family and her late husband’s family are close-knit, she has not had to spend any time alone since getting a call from a doctor on Sunday, informing her that her husband was dead.

“I was two blocks from my house and it took all the strength I had to make it to my driveway,” De’Shondra said.

Asked if she and her husband had ever discussed the dangers of playing football, De’Shondra said, “Al was my Superman, and you don’t think anything can happen to your Superman.”

Lucas also leaves a daughter, Mariah.

“She still thinks Daddy is coming home,” De’Shondra said. “She is only 2.”

Short Waves

The Avengers’ game at Nashville on Sunday will not be televised. The NBC game in Los Angeles on Sunday at 10 a.m. will be Colorado at Chicago. There will be a moment of silence for Lucas at all AFL games this weekend. And all players will wear a No. 76 helmet decal, Lucas’ number, for the rest of the season.

Recommended viewing: Of the nearly 2,000 fatalities that have occurred in boxing, the most prominent might have been that of Benny “Kid” Paret after a nationally televised 1962 fight with six-time world champion Emile Griffith. “Ring of Fire,” a powerful documentary on Griffith and the impact Paret’s death had on him, will be shown, commercial free, on the USA Network at 9 p.m. Wednesday. The ending, guaranteed, will bring tears.

Rob Dibble, the newest cast member of FSN’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period,” should be a good fit. He worked well with Dan Patrick on ESPN Radio until being informed Dec. 16 his contract wasn’t being renewed. “It came as a surprise to me,” Dibble said Thursday. “No one at ESPN had ever told me I wasn’t doing a good job.”

Channel 5’s sports department has won two awards. One, for best sports segment, was from the Associated Press Television-Radio Assn. of California and Nevada. The other was an Edward R. Murrow Award, presented to anchor Damon Andrews and producer Ted Green, for a feature they did on Bret Saberhagen, who is not only coaching the Calabasas High baseball team but is also helping build a new state-of-the-art baseball complex at the school. Green is a former Times sportswriter.

ESPN will televise UCLA softball games over the next three days. UCLA plays host to Arizona State tonight at 7 and plays host to Arizona on Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPNU. Sunday’s game at 1 p.m. is on ESPN. Former Bruins will serve as commentators. They are, in order, Stacey Nuveman, Natasha Watley and Lisa Fernandez.

ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap has been chasing Bobby Fischer for years. The former chess champion at one time had a friendship with Schaap’s late father, Dick, but it turned contentious. Schaap caught up to Fischer three weeks ago in Iceland, and the meeting was anything but pleasant. Schaap’s report on his confrontation with Fischer will appear on “Outside the Lines” Sunday at 6:30 a.m. and later on “SportsCenter.”