Maybe it's too easy to say that the Winter X Games should be canceled. Perhaps it's too trite to say that we are the X Games and without us they are nothing, so we must assume responsibility for what happens in them because we sustain it. Yet both observations might be true. For certain, something is terribly wrong.
I have never before seen a human being die tragically in real time. I have never witnessed a fatal accident as it was occurring. It was as sickeningly sad and brutally shocking as I could have imagined. Caleb Moore died Thursday morning from injuries he suffered in a snowmobile accident broadcast on live television to a worldwide audience.
It was intended to be entertainment. We saw the man and his machine soar into the air, like we have dozens of other times while watching the games. The machine went a little off kilter, and its pilot aborted the intended trick. Upon landing, the snowmobile's skis caught on the landing, and the machine flipped forward. Moore was launched and slammed into the hard snow face first. He rolled forward, and his 450-pound sled came down hard, spearing his chest. He didn't move. Big deal.
We've seen this over and over again in this arena. In a familiar X Games scene, ski patrol and paramedics huddled around his limp body. He was finally revived and helped to his unsteady feet. He smiled and waved to us. That image now haunts us. Ten minutes later, we saw him strapped to a backboard being loaded into an ambulance. Not long afterward and far out of the range of the cameras, he was airlifted to St. Mary's trauma center in Grand Junction.
Now he is dead. Everything about this was and remains a matter of time.
"Ooooh," we cried as we watched the action unfold, as his head snapped violently forward into the snow upon landing. Was there an involuntary chuckle of incredulity? "Dang!" we said when the snowmobile slammed into his chest. There were enough replays to sanitize the situation and make us eager to see the next act. We described the wreck the next day to our friends who missed it. We sent videos of it all around. It was why you have to tune in tonight. What fun and excitement! The X Games are not just some dumbed-down, made-for-TV stunt. The danger is real! Cool! Legit!
The X Games are the Hunger Games. The athletes are chosen by the genetic lottery to participate. It's an honor to represent your region. Before the games, the stars are introduced to us with fanfare; there are the hip posters, the wild outfits, the outrageous parties, the media events designed to let us get to know the people we see once a year and then quickly forget.
We have designed the contests to ensure that there will be carnage. The gore is glorified. "It's interesting to note,"the ESPN color commentator tells us proudly, "that five of the eight contestants in these superpipe finals underwent major surgeries this last offseason." You must damage life to live it to the fullest. Pass me another Red Bull, and turn on the GoPro.
The object is to do a trick that nobody else can. It must be extreme. That necessarily means it's extremely dangerous. It is a shame to try the mundane; the judges will not be kind to those who do. To win, the competitors must attempt the impossible. That is the built-in conclusion. It is not fair! The deck is stacked. Once you are in the games, there is no escape - you will suffer. Be proud of that, we tell them. Scars are your badges of courage.
If Moore's death was an anomaly, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, it isn't. Sarah Burke, an X Games skier gold medalist, died after a tragic accident in a lead-up to the games in Januaryn 2012. Shortly before that, snowboarder Kevin Pearce crashed in training and suffered traumatic brain injury. Aspen's own darling, Gretchen Bleiler, shattered her cheekbone and jeopardized her eyesight this year while preparing for a return to the games. The list of casualties is all-encompassing.
As violent as our world is, death in the media always has been for me either made up in movies or edited in the news. The X Games has one-upped Hollywood and brought real-life violence, injury and death into our living rooms.
They have served their purpose. The sponsors are happy. Record-size crowds attend the games each year. The publicity helps Aspen's image, we are told. The show is a testament to the vitality of youth and a showcase for young people living out their dreams on the edge. The cost-benefit analysis works all the way around.
Please pray for Caleb Moore, his family and his friends. Roger Marolt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.