You may not remember it, but there was a time when sport had a purpose greater than entertainment and advertising. Early fencing, wrestling, archery, and pentathlon competitions trained troops in the practical arts of war. Later, sport refocused to improve physical fitness and impress women. But the following list shows places where modern sport has devolved into novel death wishes.
Climb a big hill on an open-for-business highway, lie supine on an elongated skateboard and roll down. Gather speed and try not to die. That’s going to be difficult because you have no brakes, you’re an inch from a road surface itching to see what bone marrow looks like, and you present a visual profile to passing vehicles that’s only slightly larger than a puddle. Which is what you’ll be if you have anything close to a lapse in concentration or luck.
There’s a reason some things are so inaccessible—it’s God’s way of saying, “Don’t be stupid”. Still, people pay top dollar to be helicoptered (at $500 a pop) to untouched snowcaps, where they leap onto virgin slopes and ski far from crowds but very close to avalanches. Even the helicopter ride can be dangerous, and many have died en route to untouched powder (Frank Wells, former president of The Walt Disney Co. died in a helicopter crash during a heli-skiing trip in 1994).
Let’s not get crazy here: nobody’s saying surfing isn’t fun and or that it isn’t a great excuse to get chicks in bikinis. But any sport with rules for when a shark enters the field of play is not for those with functioning frontal lobes. Big Wave Surfing cranks the dial to 11 by towing surfers into monster 50 ft waves strong enough to crush villages. So if the brute force of the wave doesn’t kill you or bury you so far underwater that you drown, you could still bash your head on submerged rocks or fail to avoid your own board (fickle thing!) hurtling past you like a Randy Johnson fastball. And where would that leave you at Frankie and Annette’s luau?
Rodeo started as the gymnastics of ranching: a series of highly specific competitions taken from key aspects of cattle ranching in the Old West. But there never was and never will be any damn reason to ride a bull: its only practical application is to make you appreciate your own job—even if you’re unemployed. Straddling 1800 pounds of leaping pissed-off beef (an effect achieved by constricting bovine genitals with rope, or TASERING) routinely results in the rider being thrown 10 feet into the air, with a landing cushioned by a mere inch of dirt and feces. And if you don’t break your jaw, ribs, or collarbone on re-entry, you still have that bull to worry about (he’s still bitter).
The Running of the Bulls (“encierro”) is a “sport” that involves running in front of bulls that have been let loose on a course of a town’s streets. There are actually several encierros, but the most famous is in Pamplona, Spain, and it was mentioned in Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and “Death in the Afternoon”. The purpose is to entice or herd the bulls from off-site corrals to the bullring. Any fool over eighteen with more bravado than brains (which would have included me at eighteen) can participate. Every year between 200 and 300 people are injured, mostly with contusions due to falls. Since 1910, 14 people have been killed in Pamplona’s Running of The Bulls.
Forget the wimps wearing pads and helmets- the real danger is on the sidelines, where estrogen and adrenaline combine in one of the newest recognized sports. It has been estimated that there are over 20,000 reported cheerleading injuries a year, making cheerleading the most injury-prone sport in the world for women. Many common injuries include broken legs and spinal injuries. Think about it—it’s like diving on land, with easily distracted co-eds serving as the water. I’m all for cute girls in skimpy outfits (especially those USC sweaters), but this sport has a lot of catching up to do, safety-wise.
Motorcycling is the most dangerous motorsport in the world. Just one example is The Isle of Man TT event, which has a rich 100-year history. But during that time, there have been over 220 deaths. The drivers in the race are required to maintain their balance while driving through all types of obstacles such as rocks and trees, and even bugs on their windscreens. This is all done while traveling at an extremely high rate of speed. And don’t get me started about all that X-Games crap. Remember, Travis Pastrana, it’s all fun and games until someone gets …
Let’s see: a sport that keeps fatality stats and has NO chance of women in bikinis. Nope, I’ll just buy the $945 North Face jacket and read “Into Thin Air”, thank you. Today, about one death occurs for every six successful summits on Everest, and each victim had to pass corpses on the way up. Real mountaineers face every threat you can imagine, up to and including drowning. Gravity must queue up for its chance to kill you, as hypoxia, hypothermia, frostbite and pneumonia all have prior reservations. Even a regular injury can be fatal, as rescue helicopters simply can’t get to you and your buddies may be too gassed to help. But if you do summit (you’ll probably have to wait in line), keep those glasses on or you’ll burn up your corneas from excess UV radiation. Kinda defeats the purpose, huh? To date, 179 out of 1,300 different Everest climbers have died, but mortality rates have started to decline since 1990.
You know, we used to call this behavior “attempted suicide”. BASE jumpers willingly hurl themselves from Buildings, Antenna, Spans, or Earth with nothing but a hand-deployed parachute to prevent “deceleration trauma.” In this game, there’s no need to keep score: the winner is the one who DOESN’T DIE. Lucky losers get slammed back into the object they just jumped off of or break everything they have made of, say, bone. Between 5 and 15 people die each year, according to Harry Parker of The International PRO BASE Circuit. This is sport is illegal almost everywhere, and with good reason. R.I.P. Slim.
The idea for this sport came as somebody was disposing of a body. Take all the regular hazards of diving (itself a dangerous activity), and add exploring uncharted territory, freezing temperatures, low-visibility conditions, and cramped quarters. And don’t forget that ticking clock on your air supply—you can’t just go “up” to breathe (risking “the bends”). On top of that, it’s still a wilderness experience, and some of the caves actually have wild animals living in them. According to a recovery team based in San Marcos, there have been more than 500 deaths from this sport since the 1960s. The risks are so high that experience affords little protection– many of these victims have been diving instructors and technical divers. As a result, the National Speleological Society defines a “successful” cave dive as “one you return from.” Perhaps they should follow that logic and define an “intelligent” cave dive as “one you don’t take”.