A week ago, as I first talked about Caleb Moore’s crash at Winter X Games Aspen, I said there’s no changing the sport. I acknowledged risk and defended it by saying things like the riders knew what they were getting into and you can never make snowmobiling or snowboarding or skiing completely safe. I used those arguments to formulate a theory that it was perfectly acceptable to remain stagnant when it comes to extreme athletes’ safety.
But that’s all changed now.
To allow Caleb Moore’s death Thursday to lead to a complete reversal of my position might feel hyperbolic. I won’t deny it’s a staunch movement from where I was seven days ago, but it’s a move, just like the one I’m about to propose, that is all too necessary.
I said a lot of things in that article last week that are no longer true. Most notably, I said everyone (all three snowmobilers that were injured last Thursday) were expected to make a full recovery. As we now know, that didn’t happen.
And as the basis for my thoughts change, so do my thoughts themselves.
Let’s look at winter extreme sports from afar. The ‘big picture’, if you will. You’ve now had two deaths of prominent Winter X Games athletes in as many years. Sarah Burke was killed during a training run shortly before last year’s X Games and Caleb Moore died of injuries suffered on the first night of competition last week.
Neither star passed away within the actual time span of the Winter X Games, but to use that as a method to disperse culpability elsewhere is sorely irresponsible.
I use the word culpability because we’re not talking about murder. There’s no guilt here. No one KILLED Sarah Burke and Caleb Moore. Their deaths occurred as a result of risks they took, the same risks they took most every day.
The closeness of their deaths creates a statistical cluster that lies far outside the normal parameters of danger that exist within their sports. You can’t erase those dots on the timeline any more than you could space them out. The question now is what do you do about it?
If you treat them as isolated incidents, as nothing more than a severe coincidence, than, quite frankly, you do nothing. Because to do so is essentially to say, “well, these sort of things happen.” And if that’s the belief of the sports’ authorities, than no further action is required.
But, BUT, if you look at the deaths of Burke and Moore and it concerns you that the level of risk here is too high, than it’s time, at the very least, to have a serious, honest conversation about where we go from here.
And when I say serious, I mean everything is on the table. No idea — spanning from removing all safety gear to outlawing the games altogether — is a stupid one. Because if we’re really going to discover the right course of action, we can’t narrow the conversation before it even begins.
This conversation that needs to take place isn’t about death. That may have been what brought us to this point, but it’s not the focus here. No, the focus here is risk.
Risk is invincible. You simply cannot get rid of it. In every sport out there, I guarantee there is a way an athlete can die. According to livestrong.com, the four safest sports one can participate in are swimming, golf, tennis, and fencing. Yes, that’s right: half of the safest sports we have involve immersing yourself in water or sword fighting. And if you google “golf fatalities”, you’ll see just how safe the safest of sports are.
What we’re talking about here is adjusting the level of risk. Ideally, you find that sweet spot where you have an ACCEPTABLE amount of risk and the game itself is not horribly altered. But when such a sweet spot doesn’t exist, that’s when there are difficult decisions to make.
Decisions that should be made in a conversation extreme sports needs to have now. The organizers of the X Games have never skimped on safety. You could argue there were as many safety measures in place as reasonably possible when Caleb Moore took off that ramp.
But now a man is dead and the game has changed.
I don’t pretend to know what the right answer for extreme sports and the X Games are, all I know is it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Maybe we shelve the events that bring the most danger. Maybe we shorten jumps or limit the legality of tricks. Maybe we put a moratorium on adding new events that are attractive simply because they’ll be that much more eye-popping for ESPN’s cameras.
Whatever the answer is, now is the time to find it. Before we get too ahead of ourselves. Before we have senate hearings or new regulatory bodies. But most importantly, before we lose the next Sarah Burke or Caleb Moore.
Let’s act NOW so we don’t OVERREACT later.
NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for sports updates and other shenanigans!