Not everyone will agree with this opinion, but there was something sad about this year’s X-Games. Sad for motorcycling.
When I was younger, surfing was a very big part of my life. Much bigger than motorcycling. At first, surfing contests didn’t exist, but slowly they evolved into what we have today. Many great surfers did not want to compete in contests. They considered it “selling out”, and demeaning to surfing, itself. Eventually, contests were promoted by big companies . . . companies that sold advertising and television rights. Surfing was an “art form”, a “lifestyle”. This may sound corny, but plenty of great surfers, such as Wayne Lynch, believed it and lived it. They would not participate in contests.
Motorcyclists, perhaps, never viewed their activity with such rose-colored glasses. There has always been a commercial side to motorcycling , and it begins as a sport that requires a fair amount of wealth for participation (surfboards are cheaper than motorcycles — a lot cheaper). Nevertheless, motorcycling, and motorcyclists, always retained a certain level of dignity in my eyes.
Even the daredevils, like Evel Knievel, had their dignity. Their whole act was part of a rebellion I could relate to. They acted alone, and put no one at risk but themselves. They chose those risks, and occasionally paid the price for taking them.
Freestyle motocross began as a very pure form of riding. “Free riding”, to me, is about having fun with your friends, and exploring the limits of your ability, and the ability of your machine, in a free, open environment.
Somewhere along the way, of course, freestyle motocross became a business, as well. Nothing wrong with that. Freestyle motocrossers earn their money like everyone else — well, maybe not like everyone else. Most of them were rebels who, in a sense, didn’t want to “sell out”, but wanted to earn a living nonetheless.
Now, big money productions like the X-Games are ruining it, for me. The spirit of Free Riding is gone . . . replaced with made-for-TV B.S.
Seconds before Brian Deegan took his opening jump in the “Best Trick” competition at Staples Center, ESPN showed a video on big screens to the crowd, and to Deegan, of Deegan’s nasty, life-altering crash and injuries at the Winter X-Games just months ago. Deegan, who was about to literally risk his life, once again, watched this video and, remarkably, held his composure well enough to successfully complete his trick (the same one he attempted while crashing at Winter X). He did comment about the poor timing chosen by the X-Games producers immediately after completing his jump, however.
That video, shown to Deegan and the fans, wasn’t good for Deegan’s focus, and certainly didn’t enhance his chances of avoiding serious injury during that jump. That video, however, was good drama. It highlighted for the fans the horrible consequences Deegan faced if he failed at his attempt (some might say that it showed the fans how tough he was to come back to ride again from such a bad crash . . .).
ESPN hyped the freestyle competition by continually referring to Travis Pastrana’s latest trick, the double back-flip. Indeed, it even had a video of Pastrana demonstrating the trick. Pastrana states near the beginning of that video “Let’s learn how to do a double back-flip”, or words to that effect. Let’s not, Travis.
In any event, all this hype about the double back-flip never materialized in a double back-flip attempt (thank goodness, because Travis wadded himself up pretty good on a far less difficult maneuver known as the “360”).
After suffering relatively serious injuries (including, at a minimum, a concussion, broken foot and injured wrist — the concussion, alone, made it inadvisable to immediately race or jump a motorcycle), ESPN shows Travis essentially mocking his own injuries, and making light of them. Pastrana proceeds to compete in the supermoto competition (where he is soundly beaten — even before falling and stalling his bike), and the freestyle finals on Sunday evening.
While his equilibrium was not functioning properly, and his other injuries were bothering him, Travis proceeded to participate in the freestyle finals, presumably for the glory and a gold medal. What we don’t know is how much ESPN pressured Pastrana to participate after using his participation as the primary focus of its campaign to maximize the number of viewers, and maximize its own ad revenue from the broadcast.
As the ever-cool Sal Masekala announces that Pastrana has been “cleared by medical” (an absurd thought, in itself — see our earlier discussion about concussion injuries, here), the impaired Pastrana soars from the ramp to the base of the Home Depot stadium (more appropriately called the Coliseum, but that was last year’s event) to the roar of the fans and the delight of the television audience.
In the end, ESPN has successfully staged a motorcycling event that goes beyond anything Evel Knievel did. Knievel never competed with another daredevil, never suggested it was a good idea to jump while suffering from a fresh concussion, never told an audience something as asinine as “Let’s learn how to jump over 30 school busses”, and he never watched a video replay of his horrendous crash at Cesar’s Palace while attempting to concentrate on another death defying leap. Put it another way, he never demeaned himself or the sport of motorcycling.
So here’s my suggestion to ESPN. Keep supermoto, because it was instantly the best part of the X-Games, ever. Either drop the freestyle events, or produce them more professionally and responsibly.
As for Pastrana, most of us are over the fact that you threw away a promising career as a motorcycle racer to pursue whatever it is we should call the pattern in your life. But stop acting like your concussion-a-month lifestyle is cool and without consequences. Concussions are cumulative, just like the blows to the head a boxer takes over a boxing career — although the blows you receive are less frequent, and, on average, much, much harder. It is your right to choose the way you make a living. It is not my right to criticise that. I will criticise the message you are sending. If you choose a lifestyle that may lead to your becoming the poster child for multiple-concussion syndrome, that’s your business. The thousands of kids who worship the ground you walk on, however, need to know you are no hero. You’re just another sell-out.