Caleb Moore will be laid to rest this morning after funeral services in Texas, a week after the 25-year-old snowmobiler’s horrifying crash during the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo. He initially walked off the hill after falling short on his landing and having his 450-pound machine roll over him.
Officials first thought he suffered a concussion before he ran into complications with his heart. Hours later, he was brain dead. The back flip he attempted, while abnormal to the untrained eye, was one he had completed twice earlier in his heat and hundreds of times in practice and other events. The accident was filed away as a terrible tragedy.
Death was part of the game.
But was it that simple?
Moore grew up in a culture in which athletes continue pushing the limits of normalcy with cool-sounding maneuvers that tempt their fate. ESPN created the X Games as a hipper, more progressive alternative to mainstream sports but also for the spectacle. It’s no different than other sports when it comes to selling the product.
More viewers mean more sponsors, which mean more money.
Although the 24-hour sports network should not be held directly responsible for Moore’s death, it did play a role in pushing athletes who were willing to take greater risks.
Let’s be honest, there is nothing normal about performing back flips on a snowmobile. But it sells because fans are enamored with danger. They watch football for the big hits, hockey for the fights and auto racing for the crashes.
We don’t fill stadiums for the X Games, although an increasing number of events have crept into the Olympics. Instead, television brings the events to us. And while the participants despise being dismissed as thrill seekers, there’s little doubt that they provide thrills for viewers seeking them. We celebrate them for breaking down barriers and scoff when they pull back.
What does it say about them?
What does it say about us?
“To us, it’s worth the risk. It’s what we live for,” said Hamburg aerialist Matt DePeters, who competed in the 2010 Olympics and retired last year after fracturing a vertebrae in his neck. “When you’re pushing the limit and know you’re pushing the limit, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.
“At times, there are going to be consequences. You do all the preparation you can to make it as safe as you can. But when it comes down to it, you have to commit and put yourself out there. Things happen.”
Last year, halfpipe snowboarder Sarah Burke died nine days after landing on her head during training in Park City, Utah. In 2009, snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in critical condition after another accident. Both competed in the X Games.
This isn’t meant to blame Moore for his death, or the X Games, or anyone in particular. It’s merely acknowledging that tragedies are bound to happen when athletes take their performances beyond previously accepted thresholds.
No matter how fast or how strong our athletes become, no matter how high our skiers and snowmobilers and cyclists soar, we want them to go stronger, faster and higher. It trickles down to money — money for the athletes, money for the companies supporting them, money for television.
And moments after we see our first triple flip with two twists, we’re asking for quadruple flips with three twists. It’s never enough.
It was the same way in the 1970s, when networks battled over broadcast rights for Evel Knievel. No matter how many cars he jumped on his motorcycle, there was always one more.
“It does get to a point where you are pushing life and death,” said DePeters, who is now coaching aerials in Park City. “If you’re going 110 feet on your skis and you’re 30 feet off the ground, you’re carrying about 60 mph speed into that jump. People die in a 60-mph car crash. Here, you’re on skis, in the air, and you don’t have the body of your car to protect you. You’re pushing the limits.”
For all the sports I’ve covered, none was more exhilarating in person than watching the Olympic debut of snowboard cross during the 2006 Winter Games in Italy. Stadiums were half-empty throughout the Olympics that year, but that event drew 10,000 fans to a venue that held 7,600. You can only assume the place was packed because adrenaline junkies anticipated a nasty crash. I guess that included me, too.
Television turned nameless, faceless athletes into megastars. The X Games helped make Shaun White a household name and symbol for the next generation of Olympians. The Flying Tomato became a multimillionaire after taking his sports to new heights, after proving the impossible was possible.
The next generation is certain to expand the boundaries yet again. People will watch, the same way they watched Roman gladiators and bare-knuckled boxers and the X Games and every competition in between.
It doesn’t bring back Moore, but it will bring back competitors like him. They keep pushing, so we keep watching.
Death has become part of the game.
Yes, it really is that simple.
The missing trophy
You know the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the one given to the Super Bowl champion, the one that for years has reduced grown men to tears? The Ravens were worried they lost it after beating the 49ers for the title Sunday.
Apparently, the trophy vanished amid the celebration after the game and could not be located for several hours. Luckily, it had been whisked away from the locker room and placed on the charter — or so they claimed.
We’re still waiting to hear what Jim Harbaugh had stuffed under his coat while leaving the Superdome.
Kaleta runs into red tape
Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta should consider wrapping his stick in red tape.
He has spent years trying to open an ice rink, a facility funded by his non-profit foundation that began in Springville and was headed for an abandoned Walmart in Hamburg. It would include two ice rinks, an educational center and recreational field house near McKinley Parkway and Southwestern Boulevard.
It sounded like a very good plan, considering Kaleta and several investors were giving back to the community and accepting all financial risks. The facility would be in a good location, would provide an extra sheet of ice to meet demands and remove the hassle for the town that comes with running its own facility. It also would boost nearby businesses.
All aboard? Not quite.
Rather than embrace common sense and push a project that’s needed, it appears Kaleta could hit a snag. The town will consider allowing a textile company to set up shop in the empty building, instead. Supervisor Steven Walters, who confirmed an out-of-state company is interested, said he had not spoken directly to Kaleta.
“Our first and foremost goal is to fill that a building and get it back as a productive building,” Walters said. “From an ice rink standpoint, I don’t think anyone can question the need for this. Our rink doesn’t meet their needs. We recognize the fact that there’s a need for additional ice time.”
Hamburg Town Arena, also known as the Nike Base, is nearly 40 years old and has only one pad. The facility remains functional, but it’s expensive to maintain, is behind the times and sits in the middle of nowhere. A sensible replacement with minimal risk fell in its lap with Kaleta’s project.
Now, it could be in jeopardy.
Kaleta, who is sidelined with a neck injury, was unavailable for comment Tuesday. You might say he’s experiencing a pain in the neck in more ways than one.
• 98.9 – Dollars, in millions, wagered on the Super Bowl in Las Vegas casinos, which experts estimate was less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the amount that changed hands in illegal gambling during the NFL regular season.
• 9 – Playoff wins for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, against four losses.
• 9 – Playoff victories for Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, against 11 losses.
• Brad Boyes couldn’t get out of Buffalo fast enough after being misused in a season-plus with the Sabres. Boyes had 13 goals and 37 points in 86 games with Buffalo. He was on pace for 12 goals and 36 points over a 48-game season with the Islanders.
• The Miami Heat should feel fortunate it plays in the Southeast Division, where the four other teams were a combined 62 games under .500, and not in the Western Conference. San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Clippers have better records.
• Jim Kelly surprised many when he acknowledged, if forced to choose, he would rather have four Super Bowl losses rather than reach the big game once and win. It was good to hear No. 12 find peace with his career.