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February 2, 2013

X-Games Equals Roman Gladiators



Steve Janes Blog


            After attending the very first snowmobile event at the Winter X Games years ago it was obvious that we were witnessing the resurgence of Roman gladiators in the great ESPN coliseum. This was an event designed to offer sacrifices to the ratings gods of television.

            And after years of near misses, we have finally witnessed a prime time fatality. Caleb Moore died Thursday from the injuries received during the event. Caleb was 25. His brother basically shared an ambulance ride with him to the emergency room that fateful night, although Colten’s injuries only left him on crutches.

            Our hearts and prayers go out to the Moore family who will be ever altered by this tragedy. Meanwhile, at least for ESPN, the ratings go on.

            Throughout the years of the X Games, several contestants have been carried off in stretchers. The event is designed to put the participants at risk—big jumps, fast speeds, artificial lights—you name it, whatever could improve the ratings were part of the event.

            As for the participants, well, a week being treated like a rock star and a chance to capture an endorsement or sponsorship from an energy drink seemed to be all it took to not think through the consequences of the damage wreaked on their bodies.

            I realize these are professional athletes, whether they be snowmobilers, snowboarders or whatever. They are thrill seekers who live to do the daring and dangerous. But as I watched the X Games from my easy chair on my big screen television, I couldn’t help notice the near misses that kept occurring on the big jump that eventually claimed Caleb, and then his brother Colten.

            I don’t know if it was a bad execution of a trick or a poorly designed jump that led to the tragedy. But I do know that from the first time I saw a course designed for snowmobile competition at the X Games, I knew it wasn’t designed for rider safety; it was designed for big crashes and viewership.

            I admit there was something about snowmobiles featured in prime time on major television networks that intrigued me, much like it intrigued most snowmobilers. And for a young racer, doing well meant more sponsorships. But as a snowmobile community, we basically held our breath each year hoping that our top racers could survive the course.

            Now, as we bury one of our own, it’s going to be a little bit harder to justify exposure at the expense of a lack of safety. But I’m sure that before the Games begin next year, we will forget the price one of our racers paid and will be cheering on the next crop of gladiators.

            So I guess the question is: Who is to blame?

SJ



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