In many countries, our sporting heroes enjoy celebrity status with high salaries and idol status among adults and children alike. The profile of the sporting hero, however, appears to come at a cost. Athletes of all descriptions subject themselves to gruelling training and competition, which often involves pushing themselves beyond safe physical limits. Extreme and contact sports in particular lend themselves to high inherent risks as the margins for error are narrow and heavy physical impact is unavoidable.

Compromising Personal Safety in Pursuit of the “Spectacle”

In painting injured sports stars as fallen heroes, it is arguable that the media inadvertently encourages this risk taking in the name of entertainment. The message this sends to young and impressionable sports followers is a concerning one.

In the domain of extreme sports such as freestyle motocross, athletes put their skills to the test in high-risk situations and wow audiences with death-defying stunts.

30-year-old Aussie stunt, Robbie Maddison, has achieved international acclaim for jumping more than 100 metres on a motorcycle (a world record). He is also renowned for back flipping a bike over the opening of the Tower Bridge in London and jumping a bike onto the top of the Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.

Last month, however, during the Red Bull X-Fighters stunt demonstration on Cockatoo Island, Sydney, Maddison crashed his bike in a warm up jump, resulting in injuries that required him to be airlifted to hospital.

Maddison was one of four from the 12 stunt riders competing to suffer a serious fall and injury during this event, demonstrating the inherent risk of this sport. Given his superstar status and multi-million dollar salary, the question arises as to whether Maddison’s spectacular stunts are worth the personal safety compromises involved in performing them.

Another Australian sports star, rugby league legend Darren Lockyer, also demonstrated heroic defiance while suffering significant injury in last month’s NRL semi-final between the Broncos and Dragons. During the game, Bronco’s captain Lockyer suffered a fractured cheekbone that later required surgery. In spite of his injury, Lockyer played out the remainder of the game, scoring the winning field goal in extra time.

In the following week, the issue of whether he would play and should play in the preliminary final saw this issue of “sporting heroes at what cost?” again debated in the media.  Lockyer’s choice was based on the fact that a blow to the cheek in the next match could have permanently damaged his eyesight.  

The media conjecture presented an unwarranted distraction to his teammates in their preparation for this important match.  Fortunately by mid-week, common sense prevailed and he did not play. But as fate would have it, the Broncos lost the final and so Lockyer had played his last match for the season and indeed his career having previously announcing his retirement at the end of the season.

The cases of both Maddison and Lockyer highlight the risk of personal safety and the sacrifice made by our sporting heroes in the pursuit of sporting glory. But is it really worth?