A new documentary from HBO called “The Crash Reel” may be worth a watch for all those interested in traumatic brain injuries in the sporting context. The film is garnering rave reviews. It was named as an official selection to this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This year it was also the winner of the SXSW film festival audience award.
The Crash Reel tells the story of a former professional snowboarder named Kevin Pearce. One of the best in the sport, he won several medals at the Winter X Games in 2008 and 2009. His career took a significant blow when, in late 2009, he took a hard fall on the halfpipe. His head slammed into the hard surface just above the left eye. He was in critical condition for nearly a month. For the next five months he was at a hospital, undergoing intense therapy for the traumatic brain injury. He was not able to return to his home and family until the following June.
The injury itself occurred while Pearce was training for the 2010 Olympic games. He obviously could not compete. During his recovery he indicated that he was looking forward to getting back into the sport. However, as his recovery progressed and the extent of the TBI damage became clear he acknowledged that he would never again be able to compete on the snowboard.
Beyond telling the story of the injury, The Crash Reel offers a stirring argument on the need for sports officials to do much more to protect athletes. One observer noted that if officials “won’t implement safety measures to protect these athletes from themselves, then we’re going to need the government to step in.”
As with the well-known TBI lawsuits against the NFL and NCAA, advocates for athletes note that there is much to be done to keep participants safe and minimize risks.
or example, in snowboarding, the height of the half-pipe walls keep growing larger and larger. This push to increase height comes with increased risk of serious injury during falls. While the higher walls may results in “crowd-pleasing amplitude,” is the audience response worth more injuries, permanent paralysis, and death for athletes?
The same arguments have been made in the NFL lawsuits. Many players have pointed out how the league kept encouraging more and bigger hits and collisions. They assumed that this is what the audience wanted. Ignored was the fact that pushing this style of football caused many more injuries for players, including repeated concussions.
Does the league have an obligation to step in?
In The Crash Reel, Pearce’s own father makes the following analogy: “”NASCAR had to step in and limit the size of the engines in the race cars because, if they hadn’t, more and more drivers would be smashing into the walls.”
It is important that these questions continue to be asked at all levels of sport, from pee-wee leagues to the professionals. Whatever is decided, a proper balance must be struck between rules, regulations, and equipment and athlete safety on the other.
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