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Flights of ignorance, or hard-wired stubbornness

June 12, 2006

This morning in Pittsburgh, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was involved in an accident while riding his motorcycle (full story here). Roethlisberger, who has publicly stated his reluctance to wear a helmet while riding, was described as alert and conscious on the ride to the hospital.

Personally, I don’t see myself ever riding a motorcycle (personal preference). But if I did, you can bet I’d be wearing a helmet. In general, I’d rather be safe than sorry. If I had a high-profile, well-paying job (like, say, as a Super Bowl winning quarterback) I’d probably be even more careful. Steelers fans have to be wringing their hands at this moment, wondering what the outcome of this accident will be.

As a Cleveland Browns fan, I thought back to Kellen Winslow, Jr. and his motorcycle accident a few years back. Winslow, who at the time either had a learners permit or no license at all (I don’t remember the details), was attempting some dangerous stunts (wheelies, etc.) and had a year-ending accident. In Winslow’s case, he was participating in activities that were dangerous and (presumably) prohibited by his contract. It’s not suggested in any reports I’ve read that Big Ben was participating in any dangerous or prohibited activity (I’m assuming for the moment that riding without a helmet, although stupid, is not prohibited… I could be wrong). He was merely driving his motorcycle and was involved in a traffic accident.

As a fan, it is hard not to have thoughts on things like this gravitate to thoughts of responsibility. Responsibility to yourself, your team, your employers, your fans, etc. It’s easy for any normal fan to feel that Roethlisberger should feel a sense of accountability to me to keep himself safe. Is there some crossed wiring in his brain that causes him to ignore the dangers of life, or at least possess the ability to put off his danger-lust until his career is over?

Fans also cheer athletes like Brett Favre, who have made so many consecutive starts we lose count. Stories of playoff games in all sports outline an athlete playing through an injury or other problem to spur his or her team to victory. This is the proverbial “stuff” of which legends are made. Maybe the part of the brain that should counsel us to be realistic about our perceived invincibility is related to the part that enables some of us to work through obstacles that stand in our way such as injury/illness/etc.

We want our athletic heroes to do whatever it takes to win, but behave as normal citizens off the playing field.

Can we have our cake and eat it, too?

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