Athletes and fireworks a dangerous combination

There is inherent risk, calculated risk, stupid risk and plain stupidity the likes of which make Dar
Jason Pierre-Paul
Jason Pierre-Paul

There is inherent risk, calculated risk, stupid risk and plain stupidity the likes of which make Darwinists giggle and say “toldja.”

Risk is inherent in sports. Risk-taking is inherent in athletes. As a result, they get hurt all the time — on the field and off.

Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon took a risk chasing down a fly ball Wednesday night. He suffered a severe left groin strain and will miss significant time after he tried to avoid crashing into the unpadded leftfield scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium. No one could fault him for trying to make a play. That kind of risk is part of the game.

In a different vein, it’s hard to really come down too much on Rory McIlroy for playing a little football with his mates, although the risk he took was beyond the confines of the sport, and it’s costing the reigning British Open champion a shot at defending his title at St. Andrews next week.

McIlroy revealed he ruptured a ligament in his ankle over the weekend playing soccer with friends in Northern Ireland. Was the No. 1 golfer in the world irresponsible for kicking a ball around with his buddies? Sure, there was risk, but it seems to be an acceptable calculated one, all things considered. It’s not like he was playing pickup tackle American football or, I dunno, toying with explosives at the risk of blowing off some vital digits.

Not that anyone would be that dumb. Oh, wait. . . .

Jason Pierre-Paul, the New York Giants defensive end, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback C.J. Wilson are now both missing fingers, the result of separate July 4 accidents caused by messing around with, of course, fireworks.

(Can we dispense with the 37 off-color jokes/one-liners that are rattling through my head, most of which have probably already been tweeted somewhere? Yes? Good. Moving on. . . .)

Pierre-Paul lost his index finger and has a significant thumb injury. Wilson lost two fingers. There’s no need to waste time here doing the risk-reward calculus of athletes playing with fireworks. It should have been self-evident. Not to these guys.

The Giants subsequently pulled their $60 million long-term contract offer, which JPP wasn’t expected to accept anyway. But now, regardless of how well he plays — if he can play — Pierre-Paul carries, if not a red flag, then a tag that says “knucklehead.” There’s a good chance he cost himself millions.

As for Wilson, he was a fringe player to start with. Goodbye, career.

You would think a pro team would not have to put a clause in contracts telling millionaires they can’t mess with incendiary devices, lest they risk their millionaire status. You would think that.

You also would probably think athletes have never done anything moronic before.

Inherent risk comes with living. We can be struck by lightning in our backyard, or be involved in a pileup on the way to work, or be felled by swimming in the ocean or a heart attack in our sleep. We can mitigate some of the risk — don’t drive 85 mph on I-890 — but for the most part, existence carries risk.

Then there is calculated risk. Athletes are inherently risk takers, and playing sports is all about calculated risk. In any sport, there’s a chance that a horrific injury can happen at any moment. But athletes are young, in great shape, confident. That’s why many carry a sense of invincibility on and off the field: It’s a needed shield, but, at times, a glaring weakness.

On the field, athletes are calculated in the chances they take. The quarterback decides when to scramble and risk getting blown up by a linebacker. The guard decides when to drive the lane and risk getting taken out by the trees in the paint. The outfielder chases the fly and gauges the risk of colliding with the wall. And that’s not even getting into risks of motor sports, which can be more along the lines of life-and-death.

Athletes often take risks off the field, too. They live for the competition, the thrill, the adrenaline rush. It’s who they are, what propels them to greatness. But these gambles can put their very careers at risk.

Some of these risks are reasonable. McIlroy had an understandable expectation that a game of soccer would not result in significant injury. But it’s happened before. That’s why contracts are laden with provisions prohibiting athletes from a slew of risky off-season behaviors, whether it be skiing or riding motorcycles. (Note to team lawyers: Add fireworks.)

The credited inspiration for these prohibitions is Jim Lonborg, the 1967 Cy Young Award winner for the Boston Red Sox “Impossible Dream” team who injured his knee that offseason skiing and was never the same.

For athlete thrill-seekers who have seen the worse befall them, motorcycles have been a frequent culprit. Ben Roethlisberger suffered a serious injury in a wipeout. Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams’ promising career was over before it started thanks to an accident. Ron Gant had a contract voided after a dirt bike accident. In 2002, Jeff Kent broke his wrist doing motorcycle stunts, but tried to cover it up saying he fell washing his truck. It was worth a shot.

OK, so don’t be a donkey. But should athletes sit at home all offseason, cocooned in a Barcalounger?

Cal Ripken Jr. had a clause in his contract that allowed him to play basketball in the offseason. The New York Yankees 2003 ALCS hero, Aaron Boone did not. He played hoops that offseason, blew out his knee and has his contract voided.

Then sometimes stuff just happens. Robert Edwards rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a rookie in 1998 for the New England Patriots. But playing in an NFL rookie flag football game on a Hawaiian beach during Pro Bowl week, he blew out his knee so badly that the nerve and artery damage almost prompted doctors to amputate his foot. His NFL career virtually ended there (although he had a couple of decent seasons in the CFL).

Then there have been weird off-the field injuries. Goalie Glenn Healy needed 40 stitches in his hand after cutting it cleaning his bagpipes. (No, that is not a euphemism.) Baseball player Glenallen Hill missed several games after falling into a glass table, apparently attempting to the escape giant spiders haunting his dreams. Larry Walker once separated his shoulder . . . fishing.

Should teams ban musical instruments, nightmares and casting?

Yes, some extracurricular stuff has to be negotiated, but there are some clear lines. Let’s start with athletes not playing around with explosives. Can we agree on that one? Yes? Good. Motorcycles: Bad idea, no? OK. Now we can go down the list.

The report that contract negotiations between the Tennessee Titans and Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick and only first-rounder still unsigned, had stalled over the team’s desire he no longer surf proved to be false. (The Hawaiian doesn’t surf.) The fact the story had legs, though, is hardly surprising.

You could understand a team being leery of its star investment getting cut to shreds on some coral reef. That’s a calculated risk not worth taking.

A franchise wants to keep its quarterback out of harm’s way.

You know: On the field, fleeing 6-foot-4, 260-pound rush linebackers who run like gazelles. That’s just an inherent risk, which goes with the game, and life.

Categories: Sports

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