Scott Soshnick, of Bloomberg News, gets a sporting counterpoint

For those not familiar with the sports writings of Scott Soshnick, the guy is a veteran columnist for Bloomberg News -- and a highly skilled one at that.  He's been with the outfit for well over 15 years, and I've long enjoyed his work both for the diversity & timeliness of his sporting topics and also because of his solid writing acumen.  

But I found a recent piece of his, "No sports mistake should lead to death" which was picked up in the Strib's February 18 Opinion Exchange page -- to abandon a cemented tenet of what is "Sport."

In the column (whose title derives from the words of Republic of Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili), Soshnick discusses what is universally recognized as the tragic and horrible death suffered during an Olympic training session by 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.  The good Mr. Soshnick will receive no argument here (or in any sane sporting circle) that death or life-threatening injury suffered in the spirit of competition is indeed an awful and wholly (as the writer pens) "heartbreaking" event. 

While I won't use this space to examine what is certain to be an ongoing battle of assigning blame that will move between the International Luge Federation, the International Olympic Committee, the Georgian government and the deceased luger himself (that debate, in my opinion, is for those that are actually well-schooled in the sport of luge) -- I will take issue with the spirit of Soshnick's column, which is evidenced in this third paragraph of his piece:

"The only question now is whether any lesson is learned or, in the more likely outcome, memories fade and it's back to the drawing board for even higher degrees of difficulty. And, of course, more danger and, ultimately, death."

The article's next three paragraphs continue with:


"The most telling comments came from Australian luger Hannah Campbell-Pegg who the day before Kumaritashvili died -- the day before -- made clear that she was displeased with the speedy track, which has the steepest slope of any luge venue in the world and includes 16 turns and a 498-foot drop.

Top speed so far: 96 miles per hour.

'They are pushing it a little too much,' Campbell-Pegg said of track designers. 'To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we're crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives.'"

After detailing the designation of blame between the afore-noted governing bodies and governments, and also giving mention that the faller luger had noted his "fear of the track" prior to competing, Soshnick pens near the piece's closure that:

"American snowboarder Shaun White wouldn't be the 'Flying Tomato' if he didn't contort his body -- this way, that way, and upside down -- while floating above the halfpipe. White's mop of red hair wouldn't adorn the billboard in New York's Times Square if he didn't take chances. He wouldn't have a $9 million endorsement portfolio if he didn't court danger.

Here's the problem, though: It's never enough. Once you've mastered three upside-down, twisting revolutions, the fans want four. Then five. Then another twist. And then something else. Athletes cannot, it seems, satiate the public's desire for danger."

(Note: to see the entirety of the column as it appeared in the Star Tribune, please click here.  To read the slightly longer version on Bloomberg, please click here.)

Where I agree with Soshnick's above words: "It's never enough."  But to that I add: It never will be enough and it never should be enough.

Again -- this death and any death suffered in the confines of Sport are terrible, awful, tragic,

and devastating.  But for any athlete that engages in a sport in which they genuinely fear for their life and well-being, I say: then don't compete.

This discussion isn't about a sporting public that craves "Bigger, Faster, Stronger" (which we do) -- it's about the fact that Sport, like life, is about evolution.  Pushing our minds, our sports, and yes, our bodies further is a fundamental principle of our humanity.  We don't want stasis in our sports and neither do those who compete.  And again -- if the challenge of a sport has taken on too much gravity for you, then don't compete.

Based on the ideology of Soshnick's stance: there would be no jump shot in basketball, wooden skis would grace the Whistler alpine, and stock car racers would still be driving like Richard Petty in a Plymouth Superbird.  Of course, advancing the limit of Sport has driven many a would-be-hero to wade into the untoward waters of competitive advancement (i.e., steroids), but that is a discussion for another time. 

Nodar Kumaritashvili did not die in vain.  Rather, he faced his fear and in doing so joined a regrettable, albeit redoubtable list of athletes that have paid the ultimate price for the their athletic trade.  It is alright to be afraid.  It is not alright to live in fear.  The advancement of challenge and risk in our Sports mirrors the challenges and risks that have advanced our humanity.  Without that, we may as well have remained as algae.

Images via Wiki, sam_churchill