Guns, Football, and Motorcycles

Guns, Football and Motorcycles – Danger vs. Risk

Much ado about possibly very little in the news these days.  Playing football leads to brain damage, shooting guns will fill you with lead even if you’re never hit by a bullet, and motorcycles will kill you. But wait – are we skipping the thinking part?

I’ve written before about the difference between “danger” and “risk.”  To me, the difference is that risk can be reduced through education, equipment, experience, and focus on the matter at hand. Danger is just – dangerous.  Walking through the streets of some cities in the world at night can be very dangerous. It is difficult to lower the risk factor unless you have access to millions of dollars’ worth of  bomb proof vehicles and choose to ride.  Oh wait, local police departments now have that access. Most of us do not.

A recent study showed that some 96% of the brains of NFL players examined after death showed signs of brain damage. That is an alarming statistic. What I have not seen is a statistic revealing that percentage for all deceased men.  This is not sexist – there are no former NFL players who are women that I know of.  Look at your own life. Most men (and now women) participate in some or many activities that carry the risk of a head injury. I played football for three years. I was a linebacker and a center. Yes, children, we played “both ways” back in the day, and I do not remember ever being taken out of the game for a substitute. I played hockey for at least ten years, and for most of that time helmets were not worn, even by the pros. There was no face or eye protection. My mother was worried about my teeth, but never mentioned concussion. I played basketball for years (not well, and not for the school team), and played soccer for the University of Minnesota for a year. I dabbled in many other activities that would now be listed as carrying possible danger. And then, of course, I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost half a century.  I wonder what % of brain damage I will rack up after my death.  How about you?

Stepping back just a bit, there is certainly a massive difference between the number and severity of hits to the head taken by an NFL player and what I endured in junior high.  Then again, the equipment is so much better now. Overall, the % of men who will play football in the NFL is so small that data from them has to be statistically insignificant when applied to the general population. In fact, it has little relevance until a % is calculated for that general population. It is possible that number exists and that I have simply not seen it.

The Seattle Times is now spewing ink all over the topic of lead poisoning arising from the use of guns at firing ranges.  What % of ammo still uses lead? I am not well versed in this topic, but I remember reports years ago of concerns for lead poisoning in the Midwest from the sheer volume of spent ammo used to hunt ducks and deer and pheasants and so on.  I think it has been phased out, or is in the process of being phased out.  Perhaps the Times will cover that in future articles in their series.

And motorcycles.  Oh my. When I started riding I was told countless times that I was about to die. People would ask you about your “murdercycle,” or label you as an “organ donor.”  (Everyone should list themselves as an organ donor on their license, but that is a different issue) You were considered to be a dangerous drag on society, and the principal at the high school where I did my student teaching wanted me kicked off his campus and out of the student teaching program because I rode my motorcycle to a faculty meeting I was not required to attend.  After school.  He was not fond of my hair either, which reached all the way – to my ears. Ironically, the first principal I worked for after graduation told me he was happy to see me riding my motorcycle to school because he wanted students to see that you could ride a motorcycle and be a productive member of society.   Insert jokes about how productive I was here….

I countered the “wisdom” of the day by always purchasing and wearing the very best equipment I could afford. In the early days, that was not much, but a top shelf Bell helmet, boots, jeans, and a ski parka put me ahead of most.  I read everything I could on how to ride a motorcycle.  Some of it, such as Kenny Robert’s book on road racing, I did not understand.  He referred to some motorcycles as “front wheel bikes” and others as “rear wheel bikes.”  I figured out what he meant about 20 years later. I took several courses of riding instruction, and even helped develop one. All of these actions were taken in an effort to reduce the risk.  A friend once told me that he thought that what I enjoyed most about motorcycle riding was the act of taking on a dangerous activity and using the assets available to me to make it relatively safe. I think he was correct.

If you read the horror stories about motorcycling and put their content against the majority of my riding for the past four decades, which usually involved relatively high speeds on narrow back roads in all sorts of weather, you would have to conclude that I am now…dead. And yet, several hundred thousand miles later and having ridden over 500 different motorcycles, I am still functional.  At least physically, and I don’t think my mental oddities can be ascribed to head injuries or lead exposure.

I survived a big crash in 1969 and have not hit the ground in the 45 years since. (Knock on fuel tank for luck) In that crash I was unconscious for just a few seconds. Concussion?  Probably. Never tested or diagnosed for that.

And there are so many other dangers we exposed ourselves to growing up in our almost total innocence and ignorance. Car and motorcycle folks washed parts in leaded gasoline.

All the time. I did too.

Drag racers that used nitro methane and other concoctions even had a motto – “Gasoline is for washing parts.”  When I worked as an announcer at SIR in 1972 and at times ran the staging lanes, I absolutely loved inhaling nitro methane.  That cannot have been good.

I know from friends that have volunteered at ski areas that Friday night is a triage festival in the medical tent, with sprains, broken bones, and concussions lined up wall to wall. Soccer is now under the microscope for concussions, and that is a serious issue, since that sport is played by more people in the world than any other. And most of them children.

If you have children they are going to want to try things. That is what children do.  My son played soccer for several years, and eventually suffered a very bad wrist break.  Concussions too?  He was a goalie, and made many saves with what he could get on the ball, including his face. I.E., could be.

I was worried that my children would want to ride motorcycles in their teens, and since I’d been riding since before they were born, what arguments would I use to slow them down? Instead, my daughter took up rock climbing, and was soon very good at it. When she brought home pictures of her crossing a deep ravine over rocks by hanging from a rope and propelling her way across the chasm with her arms and hands I had the thought, “How bad could motorcycles have been?”

What to do?  I think the answer is to make sure your children are taking on an activity or sport because they want to, not because Mom or Dad wants to see them exceed the achievements of a parent in that area.  The odds are high that at least one of their choices will involve danger and risk.

My son has now completed a great many marathons and triathlons, including an Iron Man triathlon and a “super triathlon.”  Risks?  Oh yes.  Did he get any shove toward these events from his parents?  Hardly.

So back to the beginning. In approaching an activity, see what you can do to lower the risk through equipment, education, experience, and total focus on the matter at hand.

Read sensational newspaper and magazine articles for the content, but always balance it with your own experiences and other sources of information.

After all that, relax and live your life.

Copyright 2014                                      David Presto

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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