SBD/February 1, 2013/Events and Attractions

ESPN Plans "Thorough Review" Of X Games Snowmobile Competitions After Moore's Death

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Caleb Moore's death is the first in the 18-year history of the X Games
ESPN officials on Thursday said the net is planning "a thorough review" of the X Games' snowmobile competitions after racer Caleb Moore's death marked the first fatality in the 18-year history of the event, according to a front-page piece by Jason Blevins of the DENVER POST. Moore last week "crashed after under-rotating a standard backflip." After he "tumbled over the handlebars, the 450-pound high-performance machine slammed into him, briefly knocking him unconscious." Moore's death has "drawn scrutiny to the escalating levels of risk that athletes assume when pushing their sports to new levels." This year's X Games saw "a number of athletes injured and taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, including Moore's brother Colten, who dislocated his pelvis on the same jump less than 30 minutes after Caleb's crash." Snowboarder Rose Battersby "sustained a lumbar spine fracture Sunday during a practice session." The X Games last year were "overshadowed by the death of skier Sarah Burke, killed two weeks before the event during a training session in the superpipe in Park City, Utah." X Games Communications Dir Danny Chi in an e-mail wrote that ESPN "requires every competitor to carry health insurance." However, Chi "declined to say if the network had ever helped pay medical bills for athletes injured during the X Games competition" (DENVER POST, 2/1).

EXTREME CONSEQUENCES: 21 Marketing VP/Business Development Dany Berghoff said of the inherent danger in X Games competitions, "I think that thrill is always part of the property. I think they're always edging a fine line of safety and providing those thrills to their fans." USA TODAY's Rachel George writes it is a "line the X Games has walked for years." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "This kind of thing will have to have an effect because of what their insurance carriers will think going forward" (USA TODAY, 2/1). ESPN Senior VP/Programming & Global X Games Scott Guglielmino said, "We always have safety at the center of what we do. We work after each event and we review each event, each sport, to make sure we’re not missing anything. Clearly after this specific incident, we’re going to take a hard look at snowmobile specifically. But I think in terms of X Games going forward, we’ll continue to just keep safety at the center and continue to work hard to mitigate as much risk as possible.” He added, “One of the things we’re interested in looking at is in the snowmobile disciplines of freestyle and best trick, where the tricks are getting more and more dynamic and riders are choosing to separate from the machine mid-air. What we’re really interested in is if they don’t re-contact the sled before it comes down on the landing ramp -- or if they do and get thrown -- the two paths of the rider and the machine. In Caleb’s instance where he was then contacted by the sled on the actual landing ramp, that's something that we definitely want to avoid” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/31).

SNOWBALL EFFECT: In N.Y., John Branch in a front-page piece writes Moore's death "immediately raised cultural questions about the lure of such events to young daredevils, the appeal to viewers and the responsibility of organizers." But with the growth of the X Games and sponsors like Red Bull that have "rushed into the death-defying stunt business, the pool of willing participants seems bottomless." There now are "six annual incarnations of the X Games, summer and winter versions broadcast around the world." Many X Games events are "based on high-flying aerial stunts" and seem to "invite disaster." The "growing mainstream popularity has led some events, like the halfpipe and slopestyle contests in snowboarding and skiing, to be added to the Winter Olympics" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/1). Also in N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes this year's X Games "turned into a carnage festival on ESPN’s invites and urgings." Snowboarder Halldor Helgason "landed on his head and was transported to the hospital last Friday." Mushnick writes Helgason "suffered a concussion on ESPN’s time and dime." Two days after Helgason's accident, two women slope-style skiers also "were hospitalized" (N.Y. POST, 2/1).

SAFETY HAS TO COME FIRST: Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw noted NASCAR took several major safety precautions after Dale Earnhardt died in '01 and said, "I don't know if that is even possible with snowmobiles going through the air. They have to obviously do everything they can to look at that situation. If it’s not, if there is not a way to make it safer I don't know how you go forward after something like this happens.” The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said, "To introduce a heavy vehicle, a machine, into the mix is to me going maybe a little too far and should be re-examined. I am surprised there have not been more serious accidents or fatalities prior to this with the introduction of the snowmobiles.” The Miami Herald's Israel Gutierrez said the issue with extreme sports is “you keeping raising the bar, you keep upping the ante with these tricks." Gutierrez: "It just makes it so much more difficult to complete therefore you raise the level of danger." ESPN’s Tony Reali: “The question the X Games has to ask itself now might be, why do it with such heavy machinery?” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 1/31). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said the snowmobile “is not designed” to perform the tricks they are doing. Kornheiser: “To me, you cannot be sort of astounded when something tragic happens. ESPN owns this event. I’d get rid of this competition.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “You have to go as far as you can to try and guarantee safety even though you can’t guarantee safety” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/31). Sports In Society Exec Dir Dan Lebowitz said he wants to see a “discussion” with athletes and ESPN, beginning the “conversation of a larger society about the risks that we want humans to take.” The Denver Post's Blevins said of the degree of difficulty in the tricks that are attempted, “I wonder if it’s smart to cap progression or to say there’s a ceiling of progression” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN2, 1/31).

RISK MANAGEMENT: A Pitkin County, Colo., spokesperson on Thursday said that the county will "discuss possible enhancements to spectator safety and possibly the welfare of athletes at the Winter X Games with ESPN when a special-use permit for the January 2014 event is reviewed." Pitkin County Community Development Department Planner Mike Kraemer said, "There's definitely going to be extra discussion. That will be up for discussion with ESPN." In Aspen, Scott Condon notes county officials "don't look at the design of snowmobile courses, superpipes or any type of race courses as part of the special-event permit review" (ASPEN TIMES, 2/1). Blevins said he talked with some of the snowmobile competitors at the X Games, and they noted that the course was the “safest they’d ever seen” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 1/31). Meanwhile, Pitkin County officials said that they "don’t expect the tragedy to impact their decision to push for the X Games to return to the upper valley after 2014, when the current contract expires" (ASPEN DAILY NEWS, 2/1).
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