Sports Law • Risk Management

March 13, 2011: Safety First for Extreme Sports

Although “safety first” is a great tag line and even a great objective, is it really a top priority for sports organizations? Sports, by nature, are fraught with risk. In fact, extreme sports have evolved by increasing risk and even removing some elements of safety to make feats more incredible. This is not exactly in line with the “safety first” mantra.

Consider the sport of skateboarding in the forgoing of safety. Dennis Busenitz just won the Tampa Pro 2011 skateboarding competition, all without wearing a helmet. In fact, it is fairly common for skateboarders to ride without any protective gear. Thus, when attempting tricks sans helmet, any misstep could lead to greater injury.

It is understandable the culture that rejects wearing helmets because there is something freeing about riding without protective gear. Also the sport seems much riskier and more spectacular without a helmet, but in reality, the advanced and complicated tricks are the same regardless. It just makes those participating without a helmet more likely to get hurt.

In yet another safety concern, spectators at the Tampa Pro stood within the boundaries of the skate park while the athletes were actively competing. Not surprisingly, those spectators who were permitted to stand in the park inched toward the athletes in order to get a better view of the action. The problem is that spectators could cause a skateboarder to fall by crossing the athlete’s path or by dropping a personal item like a camera.

It is also understandable the excitement spectators feel from being close to the action. However, spectators should never be so close as to interfere with the athlete’s performance. Not only could the spectator or the athlete get hurt, but also an incident would unnecessarily ruin the competition.

However there is good news regarding skateboarding safety. Nowadays parks are being built with smoother surfaces and careful consideration of the spacing and height placement of jumps. These improvements associated with man-made parks are typically much better than a natural environment setting as it reduces the likelihood and severity of injury.

Certainly, it is a careful balance to decide which elements of safety should be incorporated in an activity and which risks should be kept to maintain the identity of the sport and keep it interesting. Even though “safety first” might not be the image with which participants of sports, especially extreme sports, wish to identify, safety should always be a consideration in any activity.