In several hours I will be, for better or worse, clad in lycra and racing my bike in greasy, slippery mud. In order to participate, I paid an entry fee. I also signed a waiver absolving OBRA and the race organizers of any and all responsibility in the event of my injury or death as a result of racing.
That waiver is my acknowledgment of the risk inherent in bicycle racing, and indeed in sport.
This morning, I heard the chilling tale of a college football player who took a bad hit, a horrible hit, in last week's game. It left him paralyzed from the neck down, with his team distraught and an entire university praying for his recovery. It gave me pause and made me wonder.
I pay to participate in my sport, and I sign the waiver as if it were no big thing. Of course, in the back of my mind, I am fully aware that at any minute, something could go wrong and I could crash and get hurt (this is why I devoted more time this season to practicing between races, to improve my bike handling and reduce the likelihood of a mishap).
For two months of my freshman year of high school, until my band director and my coach fought over me and my schedule and my band director won ("You're not going to major in track and field in college," Mr. B succinctly reminded me), I was a fair-to-middling middle-distance runner and an abysmal but enthusiastic hurdler. I clearly remember my parents and I signing a waiver that cleared me to run and absolved the school district from responsibility in the event I was injured. I also remember my folks being asked to provide proof of health coverage for me, another requirement for athletes that, in those days, was simply taken for granted. (Low-income students were minimally covered under the school's bare-bones athletic insurance policy, which basically covered the ambulance ride and ER treatment, and not much more.)
Do college athletes, on scholarship and therefore essentially "paid amateurs", sign a similar waiver? Must they state that they know and accept the risks inherent in their sports? Bicycle racing is only a contact sport if I crash; football is a contact sport on every down. How are injured athletes treated, how are they cared for, after a catastrophic injury?
I sincerely hope that the young man at Rutgers won't be forgotten by his team or his school as he faces a different and scary new reality. As for me, I have come to be part of a lovely community of good people who look out for each other at every race, and in this time of limited health care for all, that sense of community may be some of the best insurance we can create for each other as we strive for excellence in our sport. If you are racing today -- or playing football, or volleyball, or soccer, or whatever -- have fun, play hard and play fair, and above all let's remember to look out for each other on the fields of play.