Sunday, January 10, 2010

Last week Kevin Pearce took a tumble while snowboarding that landed him in the hospital in Utah, without movement or feeling below his neck. A female ABC anchor immediately called for the Olympic Committee to investigate and put in place measures that would make this sport safer for those who practiced it.

I disagree for at least the following two reasons:

1. Yes, snowboarding is dangerous, that's why it's called an "extreme sport." Those who practice it have a moral responsibility to know the dangers and to manage the risks in the most appropriate way. Some people don't manage risks as well as others, but that does not absolve them of that responsibility. For an outside agency to come in and impose risk management when the risk is only to the individual is to strip that individual of personal moral responsibility and so strip them of a piece of their humanity.

2. Yes, snowboarding is dangerous, it involves tremendous risk. We cannot, though often we live as if we believed we could and should, avoid all risk. We cannot and we should not avoid all risk. To do so is to live entirely safely, and nobody ever changed the world by being safe. Columbus didn't do a safe thing when he sailed west from Europe. Armstrong didn't do something safe when he stepped onto the surface of the moon. My son didn't do something safe when he slipped behind the wheel of a car for the first time. Striving for excellence demands managing risk, not avoiding it, pushing the envelope, not sitting in it. And we know that whenever we push the envelope sometime or other it's going to rip. To strip away the ability to manage risk is to kill the desire for excellence, and to strip us of that testosterone-driven genius of our race; it is to strip us of part of our humanity.

If the Olympic committee is going to regulate the danger in snowboarding perhaps they ought to look first at the number 1 killer in the United States: driving your car!

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