Icy irony

Posted by on Jan 16, 2012 in commentary | No Comments

Pre-Ramble:  Over the weekend, the front page of our Pioneer Press featured two stories: one, the continuing story of young local hockey player, Jack Jablonski, who suffered a devastating injury in a high school hockey game, and the other, a story about the uber-goofy Red Bull Crashed Ice event that was held across town on the frozen steps of the breathtakingly beautiful and historic St. Paul Cathedral (shown at right).

Cowabunga!  The “ice-cross downhill world championship” event was enthusiastically embraced by “athletes” from all over the world, combining elements of motocross, snowboarding, in-line skating, downhill skiing, BMX biking, gymnastics and hockey.

“Skaters begin atop a three-story ramp … hurtling themselves through a zigzagging 1,300 foot chute of jumps, drops and hairpin turns … reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.”

“U.S. amateur contestants, predominantly from Minnesota, crashed one after the other down the course … despite a requirement to wear full hockey pads, bones were broken, bodies bruised, and faces bloodied … ‘The course is insane,’ said Joey Velasquez of Bloomington ‘ … the ice conditions are terrible’ …” (Pioneer Press)

“David Kron, a snow-boarder, water-skier and hockey player, broke his neck and back on a dirt bike in 2007, but is eager to try his mettle … ” (WSJ)

On one level, the Crashed Ice event was a curious and exciting spectacle, particularly at night when the entire length of course was lit up in brightly colored lights and fans filled the air with waves of cheers and squeals and the nerve-jangling sound of clanking cowbells. It was different; it was cool; it was crazy.  It brought a hip-happening vibe to the oft characterized as beyond-boring-and-conservative City of Saint Paul.

On another level though, the mentality that makes Crashed Ice so different and cool, so appealing — the explosive speed, contact, challenge, aggressiveness, competitiveness — are some of the very forces that put Jack Jablonski in the hospital and likely in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

“Mike and Leslie Jablonski, awed by the international outpouring of support and encouragement for Jack, seized the spotlight to advocate for changes in the sport’s [hockey’s] conflicting ethos of skill and violence, hoping to create a safer environment for amateur players.”

The Take-Away:  I get the difference between the two situations … celebrating the pursuit of extreme/goofy/potentially dangerous sports among consenting adults vs. fostering safety for youth in organized sports.  The juxtaposition of the two just struck me as ironic.

I hope the Crashed Ice experience met the expectations of participants and fans, and more so, I hope that Jack’s condition continues to improve and that the hockey community revises its rules to prevent the kind of cheap, unnecessary and unsportsmanlike behavior that led to his injury.

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