Sunday, October 24, 2010

on risk

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.


Richard said...

The reason so many football players are being seriously injured is the helmet. It's being used as a weapon on the field; and as a result, players are being paralyzed and injured in ways that simply didn't occur before. Coach Joe Paterno of Penn State has called for the removal of the faskmask for years as a way to prevent the helmet's misuse. I believe he's right, but I also know his words will be ignored for some simple reason - money. Football is a violent game and the violence sells. A lot of pro players also don't want to "let up" on the field for fear of blowing a play and subsequently being replaced by new talent. Money is also the reason the NCAA won't go to a play off system, but that's another post. The NFL is cracking down on "spearing" with the helmet, but tossing a flag isn't going to completely stop players from using the helmet as a weapon as long as there is money to be made.

As a side note, A player at my university was paralyzed while playing football as well.

lynnef said...

as a former university (non-scholarship) athlete, I have no memory of signing a waiver. It is the only sports activity I have ever participated in for which I do not remember signing a waiver. Granted, it was (mumble) over 30 years ago, but still...

RIP Phil Hansel 1925-2010

KC said...

I love this post. You got me thinking. More of us than ever are seeking our thrills, doing things that push the envelope in one way or another, acknowledging the fact that what we're doing is inherently dangerous. Maybe that's part of the attraction for some sports and activities. Most of us don't really want to be spectators or couch potatoes through life. We want to be at least a little bit exhausted and exhilarated by how we've lived our lives. Risk is a big part of life!
Have a great race today!