Dangerous Sport is Play, Not Danger

Physical Activity is something that we do as humans because it is innately fun, but with this fun comes risks that we do not always account for. Activity increases our wellbeing. When we are at play, we are one with the world around us and we don’t tend to think that we are putting ourselves at danger; we are just having fun. But the truth is that physical activity does present risks in its own right. We can get seriously injured or even die doing activities that we love to do. Where do we draw the line between fun and danger? Is it safe for athletes to be competing in events that bring with them such dangerous scenarios? I say that the joy athletes get out of their respective sport is enough to overcome any danger that they may face.

J.S. Russel’s article “The Value of Dangerous Sport” explains how dangerous sport can bring intrinsic value to the athletes that participate in them. Russell talks about an idea that dangerous sport brings “self-affirmation” to the athlete. Dangerous Sport affirms who we are by pushing the ordinary boundaries of our lives and challenges us to be a better person. It tests us by requiring us to make the most out of our “whole selves”, using our mind and body as one because everything around us is at stake. (For more on this article visit: https://moodle-2013-2014.fullerton.edu/pluginfile.php/63582/course/section/33165/Russell%20Dangerous%20Sport.pdf). Danger is a critical part of sports because it forces us to become more extraordinary. It’s our fight or flight tendencies that kick in. When being chased by a hungry animal we get a rush of adrenaline and we are able to run faster than ever before. Without any sense of danger, athletes don’t feel the need to push themselves and they don’t improve. Athletes often have a tendency to believe that the more risk there is, the greater the reward. If you take away the risk, there is nothing for the athletes to work for and suddenly the intrinsic value that they love in sport is gone.

In class, we discussed the four characteristics of play: play is voluntary, extraordinary, autotelic, and fun. Do extreme sports fit all these characteristics of play? As we’ve established, dangerous sports are definitely extraordinary. How often do you see someone on the street flip fifty feet in the air over a fifty foot gap and land perfectly? Extreme sports are obviously fun, otherwise athletes wouldn’t risk their lives participating in the sports. In the same respect, dangerous sports are also autotelic because athletes are internally motivated to perform in their sport. We all perform in dangerous sport and aren’t driven by any external rewards, but instead we enjoy the internal rewards that come of it.

The most interesting characteristic I wanted to focus on is that play is voluntary. Dangerous sport is also absolutely voluntary. We know the inherent dangers of the sports we participate in, yet we do it anyway because it is our choice. We choose our sports because we want to play them. Even when we are confronted with injury, we still choose to play our sports because we have fun when we are at play. Recently New York Giants running back, David Wilson, received very serious news that he may have spinal stenosis, but it was his quotes during that week that grabbed my attention. He said “I’m willing to go out there and sacrifice and play with my team. This is what I love. That is my choice.” (For more information visit: http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2013/10/11/4829494/david-wilson-injury-spinal-stenosis). He said this just days after finding out that he had a serious spine injury. He is trying to find any possible way to go out there with his teammates again even if that means risking his life to do so. The most powerful part of that quote is when he said this was “his choice”. Doctors can tell him if he’s healthy enough to play, but it is up to him and only him to accept the risks of the sport and play it anyway because that’s what he loves to do. In the same way, society and the media cannot tell him what do to either. He may look like a fool to some of us that he would be willing to jump back into play after receiving very serious news about his health, but it is his choice to do so if that is the route he wants to take. He is not hurting anyone else with this decision and it is his decision alone to make.

However, sometimes the risk of a sport are not always made evident to us. The NFL just had to settle a concussion lawsuit with former players because of the information they did not make available to the athletes playing the sport. The NFL suggested there was no correlation between concussions and long term brain damage, so that the players did not know the true extent of the risks they faced when playing football. (For more information, visit: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/health/nfl-concussion-settlement/). I think it is important for all information regarding risks related to a sport be available to an athlete, but I still think it is up to the athlete to find out this information before participating in the sport. Dangerous sport is completely voluntary and it is up to the athlete to proactively find out the risks of the sport and weigh that against how much they enjoy the participation in that sport. If the fun outweighs the risks, than I say the athlete should participate. They are not hurting anyone and it is their decision to make. We need to keep finding ways to make play safer, but at the end of the day the athlete has accepted the risks and are happy at the end of the day because they are doing what they love to do.