I’d Like a Double Helping of Hypocrisy, Please

Monday, June 12th, 2006, 2:27 pm

I was going to write a long post about the hackjob the New York Times Magazine did about online poker. It’s your typical cautionary tale, about how one college kid lost his mind playing poker and therefore we degenerate-wannabees need to be protected for our own good. This kind of crap really gets me steamed because if I have any political philosophy at all anymore, it boils down to this–Leave Me The Hell Alone. Along with it’s corollary, Don’t Tell Me What To Do. Spare me the whole “It’s For Your Own Good” bullshit. If you want to convince me that your point of view is valid, you’d better bring your rhetorical A-game. Telling me that something is wrong because it’s “wrong”, or that Jesus wouldn’t like it, or can’t I see that I’m hurting myself…you gotta do A LOT better than that. Get out my face. I’m a reasonable human being willing to listen to reason. And I’m not an insane contrarian willing to argue that, say, puppycrushing is an acceptable way to spend a summer afternoon. But so long is you aren’t hurting anyone but yourself, I err on the side of letting the individual decide what’s best for him and/or her.

However, my first reaction when seeing the BREAKING NEWS headline about Ben Roethlisberger’s accident was to say, “Why the hell didn’t the Steelers make him wear a helmet?” You see the hypocrisy, yes? The word “make” is one that I reflexively dislike. It’s also not the exact word I was looking for. A better choice would be “Order”. “Command”. “Force“. None of which mesh neatly with the fiercely independent credo I discussed above. The difference between me and, say, everyone in the House of Representatives is that I immediately felt embarassed at what I said. I didn’t think about amending the Constitution so I wouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable about that which irritates me.

If Roethlisberger doesn’t want to wear a helmet, he shouldn’t have to. And while I’m sure most of the people who said that he SHOULD wear one did so with the best of intentions…he shouldn’t have to if he doesn’t want to. He’s a big boy. His decision to go without a helmet may seem stupid to most people (it certainly does to me) but he’s the one riding the bike. He nearly paid for his decision with his life today, and hopefully he’ll come through this without any long-term repercussions other than the memories. I hope he gets that lucky. I hope we all have the wisdom to carefully consider our choices before making them. And hopefully I’ll realize that sometimes I’m not quite as smart as I think I am.

UPDATE: Not that I don’t enjoy a little irony in life, as I walked back to my lot tonight you could hear tires squeal across the river on the 10th Street Bypass and SMASH! Everyone turned and it looked like a van rear-ended a car. And then, as I drove home, I nearly rear-ended a guy when an 18-wheeler got stuck trying to turn onto the 31st-Street Bridge. Nearly got rear-ended myself, as the whole line of cars drew together like an accordian.

According to the Post-Gazette Roethlisberger got freakin’ lucky. Broken jaw, broken nose, a nasty cut, but nothing life- or career-threatening. A few points I wanted to clear up. From what I’ve read there was nothing in Roethlisberger’s contract about riding without a helmet. There’s a “dangerous activities” clause, but it’s hard to argue that riding without a helmet would be considered “dangerous” because it’s been legal in Pennsylvania since 2003. Now, obviously, riding without a helmet is dangerous, but it’d hard to make the case that he was being reckless if he was in fact within the law.

And now I’m gonna go engage in some reckless activity of my own, namely play volleyball and drink beer. Risks like that are more my speed.

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9 Responses to “I’d Like a Double Helping of Hypocrisy, Please”

  1. CJ Says:

    But there is a difference between the New York Times telling you not to play online poker and the Pittsburgh Steelers telling their most important employee to wear a helmet. There’s a chance he violated his contract. And even if he didn’t, there’s a responsibility for an athlete to stay healthy in the offseason.

  2. Michael Rawdon Says:

    But hasn’t Roethlisberger hurt his team by refusing to wear a helmet? If they continue to pay and play him and he doesn’t return to form, then he’s hurt their chances of winning, which surely hurts their bottom line. If they pay him and don’t play him (because he can’t yet play, but might recover), then he hurts their financial resources to compete, because they have to sign replacements while he’s out. If he can never play again, then he may have hurt them if they can’t find a quarterback who’s as good to replace him.

    This isn’t some vague sort of “well he did something stupid and all his friends and family are worried sick over him” sort of harm. This hurts the Steelers’ business interests and could substantially impact their bottom line.

    Some contracts in some sports have clauses which stipulate that players must behave in certain ways even when off the field, or else their contract is voided. It may turn out that Roethisberger’s contract did have such a clause, or that the non-guaranteed nature of NFL contracts is sufficient. But still, replacing the under-contract quarterback of a Super Bowl winning team ain’t easy.

    This is not to say that I support outlawing Internet poker – far from it. But I think you’re treating the “if it’s not hurting anyone but yourself” test a little too simplistically.

    The difference, I think, is that Internet poker allows people the opportunity to harm themselves – but, of course, so do many other things in life. By contrast, the Steelers have a direct interest in making sure that its key players take reasonable precautions to make sure their investments in them are not invalidated.

  3. ToddCommish Says:

    He wears a helmet for his job. And he says he doesn’t like wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle?

    Idiot. Great football skills does not exempt one from common sense.

  4. Ken Says:

    Had to go all the way to the last line to get something I agreed with–not really…

    And, considering your huge fan status, I was wise and wrote this missive wearing a helmet.

  5. Mean Gene Says:

    The Steelers could’ve written such language into Roethlisberger’s contract. They didn’t. The state of Pennsylvania had a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. The law was abolished in 2003. So he was obeying the law, and wasn’t in breach of his contract.

    So far as the responsibility Roethlisberger has to his teammates, I don’t think that’s a compelling enough reason in this particular instance. He keeps himself in good enough condition to play football. He studies film, practices, etc. You could say that he was needlessly risking his ability to play by not wearing a helmet, and that’s a valid point. But you could also say that a player might risk his life by speeding. Or hanging out in the wrong nightclubs.

    People did tell him to wear a helmet. Cowher talked to him, Bradshaw came out and said he should leaving the motorcycle riding till after he retired. Myron Cope said he had a greater responsibility because the city would be devastated if he got hurt because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. But the decision was his to make, and I’m sure he thought that it really wasn’t that big of a risk. It turns out he was wrong. And while everyone in the city has been holding its breath over this, ultimately he’s the one who has to pay the biggest price.

  6. Bob Says:

    I shouldn’t have been sitting at lunch wondering how you were taking the news, but I was.

    Damn this totally gay online community.

    I should have been trying to pretend like I wasn’t there watching the US lose like pansies in the World Cup instead.


  7. Cindy Says:

    Some questions for discussion:

    Is “choosing not to wear a helmet” a right, like “free speech”? How about “choosing not to wear a seat belt”? How about “choosing not to put your kids in car seats”?

    Can one be addicted to gambling? Can one be addicted to risk? Is the risk of losing money (including money one has borrowed from friends and family) the same as the risk of riding a motorcycle? How about the risk of driving a car? How about the risk of flying a small plane? Why are some risks acceptable to society when others aren’t’? Who gets to decide what’s enough risk?

    I had a slightly different reaction to reading the New Yorker article — I played a goodly amount of blackjack in grad school, mostly with federal loan money. I came out about even while I was in school, but the next year and the year after (when I was back in the real world) I lost. Fortunately for me, I like live action a lot more than online play, so I’m not tempted by the websites. But still, I remember my nights of playing well past my capacity, and I can imagine how easy it is to get sucked in when one has that in-school/no-fear/everything-will-work-out mentality. Plus, I remember how completely not-real the world of college is. I don’t see any reason for universities to allow online gambling through their IT systems. There’s no value to be gained, no rights violated in preventing the action.

    The larger question of an individual’s assessment of risk, and of the risk one passes onto family, friends, co-workers, et al. is a much bigger and harder one. Here’s my summary of the situation at hand: A 24-year-old guy, who by definition thinks he’s invincible, can’t properly assess the risks of riding a motorcycle with or without a helmet. The Steelers screwed up by not writing into his contract a clause that prevented him from riding at all. He screwed up by now listening to the advice proferred by all and sundry. Now we all wait.

  8. Mark Says:

    All of this discussion is very interesting to me. I am a huge Steelers fan and have been all my life. I was very concerned when I heard the news that Ben was in an accident.

    The other side of this, is the fact that I have a bike, and I ride. I also wear a helmet every time I ride a bike. However, I feel that Ben has the free will to choose whether to wear a helmet or not. If he wants to put a multimillion dollar future at risk, then that’s his choice.

    What I really found interesting, and which no one is discussing here or anywhere, is the fact that he states that he only rides harleys and choppers. The bike I saw on the flat bed yesterday is very similar to my bike. It appeared to be a Suzuki GSXR-1000 or Hyabusa. This ‘crotch rocket’ is nothing like a cruiser bike like a harley or chopper. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can be going VERY FAST, in a very short amount of time. I am just curious as to whether he had ever ridden this kind of bike before, as it would not be the kind of bike that I would recommend someone start out on when going to fast street bikes.

  9. Drizztdj Says:

    Gambling is all about risk, which makes the motocycle accident comparsion a little different since the “risk” was not so much the riding but the refusal of the optional use of a helmet.

    Online poker doesn’t have a helmet (except maybe the play chip games), and that’s what scares the gov’t.

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