The difference is, one sport is actively trying to minimize those risks, while another tuned out any warnings prior to Sunday’s 15-car pileup in Las Vegas that left the 33-year-old Wheldon dead of unsurvivable injuries.
The track setup in Las Vegas was problematic, a fact IndyCar points leader Dario Franchitti and driver Oriol Servia said they warned race organizers about prior to Sunday’s event. This could become open-wheel racing’s version of the Dale Earnhardt crash, in which the death of NASCAR’s most popular driver spurred the sport to install greater safety precautions in its equipment, track setups and rulebook. The ghost of Earnhardt was in Charlotte on Saturday, when five-time champion Jimmie Johnson went hard into the wall and walked away to race another day.
The shame of it is, only tragedy could prompt those changes. That’s why Brendan Shanahan‘s crackdown on dirty hits in the NHL is not only appropriate but noble.
Causing enforcers to hesitate a split-second before landing a blow to the side or back of an opponent’s head may mean fewer big, clean hits that fans love, just as lowering the banking at Vegas would have robbed IndyCar fans of some jaw-dropping mile-per-hour readings, but so be it. Two little kids are now without their daddy, and if the sport has to sacrifice your thirst for violence and the smell of burnt rubber to keep another family from having to suffer the same, well, sorry for you.
It’s unlikely a player will suffer the same fate on the ice as Wheldon did on the track, but why wait to find out?
Wheldon’s dead. Marc Savard‘s career may be over. Keep doing what you’re doing, Mr. Shanahan, so one day we’re not looking back in the wake of a horrific event on the ice, wondering if there was anything we should have done.