by Ryan Meehan
Extreme athlete Caleb Moore died on Thursday as a result of an accident while competing in the ESPN Winter X Games’ freestyle snowmobiling competition. It was the first death in the eighteen year history of the X Games, and is a huge blow to extreme sports and the future of how those events are sold and televised.
Now, in no way am I attempting to trivialize Moore’s death. It’s very sad, and he was a talented young man who was very good at what he did. We will likely hear more about this story within the next couple of days and I completely understand the news coverage that will surround this unfortunate event.
That being said, what did we really think was going to happen here? I don’t consider myself to be much of a fan of extreme sports, but I do know that some of those snowmobiles can weigh up to a quarter of a ton and those guys toss them around like they are skateboards. Extreme sports may not be the dumbest thing in the world to participate in, but it’s definitely on that end of the spectrum. While professional football sometimes features helmet to helmet collisions and a baseball can travel at speeds that are more than easily capable of turning your brain into a swimming pool, the odds of a death resulting in either of those sports aren’t nearly as high as those in an event like snowmobiling.
I was just discussing the other day with a friend of mine how we aren’t far away from a serious televised death during a major sporting event. The X Games is very unique because their target audience does not usually typical major sporting events. So while we weren’t watching when this happened, there are a lot of extreme sports fans that did see this go down. From what I understand, it was one of the more popular events and I’m sure there was a ton of spectators there. However even given the high risk of death or serious injury with regards to extreme sports, none of the regular sports are exempt from this possibility.
The harsh truth is, death looms in almost every sport. Unless you follow badminton, whatever sport you are a fan of has a well-broadcasted death in its very near future.
As much as I hate to say it, it will probably happen in football first. It already DID happen to Chuckie Mullins, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. I’m referring to an incident where the player does not get up, there’s no movement, no thumbs-up to the crowd, none of that. It’s very likely that the next death we will see in pro sports will be in an NFL game, and it’s highly probable that the collision itself will cause the death instantly. There won’t be any going into a coma, the individual will simply be pronounced dead at the hospital and we’ll know that’s the case because the announcers will get very quiet and then say “We regret to inform you that…” and then it will get really quiet again. Although Kommissar Goddell is a blithering moron, he also has a great business sense and I’m sure there are already steps in place to follow when it comes to an event like this happening. And like I said, it’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when” because it will happen. So let’s give another sport as an example and a very real possibility…
Believe it or not, basketball can be a very dangerous sport as well. With the amount of cardiovascular stress that one puts on their body during a forty (and sometimes forty-eight) minute basketball game, it’s no surprise that even the healthiest of athletes could suffer cardiac arrest. Some of you younger readers may not remember the story of Hank Gathers. Gathers was a college basketball player for Loyola Marymount University in 1990 when he died after collapsing at half-court following his signature tomahawk dunk. Gathers had a heart-muscle disorder called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, so in all honesty he probably should not have been playing basketball in the first place but you can clearly see how anybody with heart problems could be risking their life on the court.
And even if you aren’t aware that you have a heart condition, you could still die playing basketball. Case in point, the story of Pistol Pete Maravich. Maravich was one of the most inventive basketball players of all time, and also one of the most disciplined. As the legend goes, Pete’s father used to drive the family car down the street as Pete would dribble the ball out of the window so that he could practice his ball control. He had a great career at both the college and professional levels, and eventually embraced evangelical Christianity after his retirement. So much that he even played pickup basketball at his local church in Pasadena from time to time. During one of these games, Maravich was with a group that included the Reverend James Dobson and mysteriously dropped dead.
As it turns out, it wasn’t Dobson’s fault as much as I’d love to pin it on him. Maravich had a rare congenital defect; he had been born with a missing left coronary artery, which supplies blood to the muscle fibers of the heart. Pete’s right coronary artery was abnormally enlarged and had been compensating for the defect. But here’s where it gets really strange – Maravich played his entire career without being affected by the condition. In other words, you might not know until it’s too late.
I really wish I had paid more attention to physics in high school, because it would allow me to explain things like trajectory and such with regards to how fast a baseball can come flying off of a bat. The most recent example of just how serious that can be would have to be the tragic death of Mike Coolbaugh, who was a former baseball player whose professional career didn’t even last for a year. However he loved the game of baseball so much that he continued to work in the game as a first base coach, so you can probably guess where this one is headed.
Coolbaugh was working the first base line for the Tulsa Drillers (a double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) when he was struck and killed him on impact. The official cause of death was listed as ”a severe brain hemorrhage” because I’m assuming “Holy shit was this guy ever in the wrong place at the wrong fucking time” wouldn’t fit on the death certificate. He most definitely died being involved with the game he loved, but man that is some brutal stuff. I’d love to give you more information about what this feels like, but unfortunately we have been unable to get Mike Mussina for 5 Questions.
But it’s not just balls hit off of the bat – the batter can be a target as well…Why do you think some of these guys snap shit and charge the mound, and then afterwards when asked about their actions defend them by saying that they have a family at home? I’ll tell you why, because a 98 mile an hour fastball can fucking kill you if it hits you in the wrong place. And even if you do survive, you could end up being like Sammy Sosa and forget how to speak English on the floor of Congress or somehow convince yourself that skin-bleaching is a good idea. Simply put, speed kills.
A puck to the face is a great reason to wear a mask if you play hockey. But it’s not the only way that you can suffer a life-threatening injury competing for the greatest trophy in professional sports. Just ask former NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk, who suffered a grotesque malady in 1989 while playing for the Buffalo Sabres. Steve Tuttle of the visiting St. Louis Blues and Uwe Krupp of the Sabres became entangled while chasing the puck and crashed into Malarchuk’s goal. Tuttle’s skate caught Malarchuk on the neck, severing his jugular vein. Malarchuk recalls the incident as follows:
Malarchuk legitimately believed that he was going to die. “All I wanted to do was get off the ice”, he said. ”My mother was watching the game on TV, and I didn’t want her to see me die.”
And can you blame him? Anything that occurs near the neck is serious shit, and I can’t believe this doesn’t happen more often. Hockey players are notorious for their recklessness, and they skate on a blade that could decapitate a cow around a bunch of other players who could fall on the ice at any moment. It’s amazing this doesn’t happen weekly, especially when you consider the fast-paced nature of hockey. So death on the ice is a threat that is very real.
Now let’s get even more obscure and discuss some of the sports that aren’t amongst the “big four” in America and prove that even in sports where there isn’t a lot of contact, death is a very real possibility.
There have been several racing related deaths, the most notably being Dale Earnhardt’s death at the Daytona 500 in 2001 from a basilar skull fracture. There’s a reason why we’re not allowed to drive at speeds in excess of 135 miles per hour – it’s because it’s fucking dangerous and you’re not supposed to do it. So when you consider the fact that they are racing at those speeds side by side (which is precisely what killed Earnhardt) it’s no small wonder that racing is one of the most dangerous sports in the world when it comes to cheating death.
Stay with me here, but if you get hit in the temple hard enough by a tennis ball there’s a chance that you could either die or spend the rest of your life in a hospital bed wondering why you had decided to stop paying attention during a professional tennis match. Although extremely unlikely, if they’re grunting that hard when they hit the ball…there’s more than enough force to do significant damage to your dome.
While the odds of a golfer dying themselves is very low, the odds of a member of the gallery dying due to impact is rather high. I say this because it never ceases to amaze me how close the PGA allows spectators to stand to a golfer’s shot when they are trying to get back on to the fairway. And to make matters worse, a lot of times the fans in question are young children whose parents let them stand in front so they can get a better view of the action. I have a real problem with this because although I realize that it takes an unbelievable level of accuracy to maintain active status on the PGA tour, it also takes only one bad shot to crack one of those kids’ skulls. And you have to figure since the guy just sliced or shanked one in the moments right before that situation
I’m not going to go into much detail about this – You don’t even need to be playing soccer to get killed at a professional soccer event. With all of the flares flying all over the place and other high risk behavior (like having seats in front of a fence that you can be trampled to death against) soccer is just as dangerous as anything else. Their fans are known for having an intense passion for the sport they love, but that passion seems to turn to rioting an awful lot. You combine that with the fact that soccer is played in some countries that still train suicide bombers, and you’re bound to have a funeral to attend at some point.
There have already been a handful of boxing deaths that we are aware, and I’m sure there have been countless instances in other countries that we will never hear of. In the blink of an eye, either one of these sports could be silenced by a death in the ring (or octagon) and when you consider how much interest in both sports has dropped over the past 24 months it would unlikely that they would recover. I’m not going any further with this one either because if you really need me to sit here and explain how you could lose your life boxing or doing mixed martial arts, sports aren’t your thing and you should probably just stick to Yahtzee.
While Caleb Moore’s passing is indeed a tragedy, it is a very real circumstance that death is always around the corner in the world of sports. We watch these events because there is a certain amount of risk involved, and that’s precisely why the athletes make as much money as they do.
Death might be the most extreme thing one can experience in their tenure here on this earth, but I can assure you this: There are no energy drink endorsement opportunities in the afterlife. Everything you do has consequences - if you want to stay out of trouble, minimize risky behavior like flying through the air on a snowmobile. We’re all guilty of pushing the envelope to an extent, but unless you’re Hindu you only have one of these things called life so use it wisely.