If only there’d been a crowd present

crowdWhat if Dale Earnhardt had not died amidst the fumes of the Daytona 500? What if instead he’d died on a long stretch of North Carolina road outside Charlotte?

Responders find his vehicle against a guard rail like an extinguished cigarette against an astray. He was not speeding. He was not drinking. He was not on a cell phone.

He also wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Uh-oh.

Would that final imaginary fact carry any significant weight given that, in reality, he died going more than 200 miles per hour in a vehicle without a HANS device before 100,000 race fans and a national television audience?

Apparently it would if he played football. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did his best impression of a harpoon Monday morning, going face first into a windshield and concrete during a blind date between his motorcycle and some poor woman’s vehicle. Unlike when he’s being chased by 300-pound lineman, on this occasion he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

ESPN’s talking heads could barely hide their smirks as they reported the news, giving special emphasis on the missing non-mandatory headgear. Sports talk radio is eating his butt. The words “f’in moron” are being used more often than “youngest Super Bowl winning QB in history” to describe the crotch-rocket rider. Yet is it fair?

Ben makes his living avoiding tackles, interceptions, shattered bones and concussions. According to a 2003 NFL study on player injuries:

Quarterbacks … routinely suffer high rates of brain concussions and spine injuries that could trigger paralysis, dementia, depression and other ailments later in life. … On average, seven pro football players a week face potentially life-altering head, spine or neck trauma.

Studies can be manipulated, you say? Statistics tell more lies than an hour of O’Reilly, you allege? Here’s a link to a 2002 Sports Illustrated article on the future most NFL players face when they leave the field. Often times it involves ruined appendages, excruciating pain and wingless bats in the belfry. All for the glory of the field and tailgating off it.

So I guess for many it’s okay for Ben to risk his limbs moving a ball 100 yards, but it’s shocking – SHOCKING they say – for him to ride the roads sans thick plastic. What I think is pissing people off is he did the latter without a paying crowd in attendance and ESPN cameras rolling. After all, you gotta have your priorities.

Get well soon, Ben.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, you can accuse Ben of being a moron for:

1 – Endangering the Steelers’ chance to repeat
2 – Potentially losing millions of dollars in salary if he can no longer player football
3 – Risking his good looks
4 – Inadvertantly inhaling a moth or two while zooming down the open road

But you can’t accuse him of being a moron for endangering life and limb. Look at what he does for a living.

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