Are Sports Flirting with Disaster?


(Credit: Ken Blaze, USA Today)

The contusion LeBron James suffered when he careened head-first into a cameraman during Game 4 of the NBA Finals was totally preventable. And this kind of incident will happen again unless the league takes action.

The proximity of photographers and fans to the courts of the NBA, and to the multi-million-dollar athletes is frighteningly close. But the likelihood of NBA teams giving up some of that valuable real estate around the basket in the name of safety is about the same as the NFL enacting any real changes to its violent and exciting cash cow that wrecks players’ brains forever.

There’s a better chance of Caitlyn Jenner switching back to Bruce.

NBA franchises (and college basketball teams) make a LOT of money from the proceeds of these courtside seats. They’d rather roll the dice and risk a serious injury than forfeit some precious revenue. But something has to give. And it may take the former to bring about the latter.

Suppose James’ injury had been worse. Maybe a concussion to the sport’s most important player resulting in his absence from the rest of this championship series? Would that be enough to force a change in policy? Ask the networks how much their ratings and revenue have suffered without golf’s biggest star prowling the fairways and in contention on the weekends.

Our society loves watching stars. Would it take losing one of them for everyone to wake up and implement the proper changes to ensure player safety and preserve the ultimate bottom line?

20th century businessman and humorist Arnold Glasow had a great quote that applies here:

“One of the tests of leadership is to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”

It shouldn’t take a genius to spot this potential disaster looming and head it off at the pass. Are you listening, NBA commissioner Adam Silver?

And we may as well add Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who had to deal recently with the scary situation of the fan in Boston getting struck by a splintered bat. And NHL boss Gary Bettman, who should be studying ways to make hockey’s dasher boards safer for collisions. And the NFL’s Roger Goodell…everyone knows his challenges.

You don’t need to watch an installment of Sport Science on ESPN to realize athletes are so much faster and stronger and the games they play exert so much greater force on objects like bats and balls and bodies, that the dangers have dramatically increased. Especially when one of the other basic truths in sports is the concept of getting fans closer to the action, so they can maximize their in-game experience.

That equation some day is going to have a major cost.

Give up one row of seats and push the cameras back a few more feet. Experiment with special padding. Consider additional glass or net safety partitions between players and fans. Or, just wait for an emergency…and then act.

Dave Coombs is a longtime morning radio host and sports fan.

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