Imagine you are watching television when you see shocking footage of an athlete’s death. Not only do you see it once, but you are then shown replays of the death highlighting all camera angles so that we may see the exact moment the person died.
On Saturday, the death of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was the latest in a string of incidents in which athletes’ deaths were broadcast for the world to see.
It is hard to understand why videos of murders or deadly traffic accidents are not shown to the public, yet a video of a car bursting into flames at 300 miles per hour and exploding into a barricade is.
What is the difference between a traffic accident video and a racecar crash?
When Dale Earnhardt died in 2001, the video of his death was seen not only on sports television, but also on news broadcasts nationwide.
Some might say an athlete’s celebrity status means they forfeit any right to a dignified death.
Are we to believe that if Britney Spears was shot in the head on camera that news broadcasts would be plastering that footage anywhere they could?
Ironically, the best-handled athletic death this year was not even human.
The filly Eight Belles, who had to be put down after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, was shown collapsing just one time on the initial broadcast – a total of 11 seconds on air were devoted to the actual moment she broke both front ankles.
This is a horse we are talking about. The horse did not even die on the initial fall; she was put down later.
In the case of Kalitta, his car exploded in a speeding ball of flame and headed straight into a wall, where it flew into the air, showering the area with debris. The fiery crash was replayed on ESPN ad nauseam for an entire day.
Many people felt that showing Eight Belles’ collapse was offensive. No one as of yet has seemed to complain about viewing Kalitta’s death.
If Michael Vick had videotaped his dogs fighting, would it have been broadcast? That is highly unlikely.
If Vick died on the football field from a hit that broke his neck, we would have seen it from every angle available. We would have seen the sky cam, the sideline cam, and the referee hat cam.
We certainly saw every shot of former Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett’s career-ending hit that people believed would leave him paralyzed.
Everett has made a remarkable recovery, but had he died on the field, the broadcast would have remained the same.
While the Eight Belles tragedy has brought about a rapid discussion on horse safety in racing, thus far there has been no significant talk in regards to ramping up Funny Car safety regulations.
After Earnhardt’s death in 2001, the fourth NASCAR-related death in less than a year, NASCAR officials began looking for ways to ensure driver security, eventually developing the next generation of the racecar, dubbed “The Car of Tomorrow.”
Kalitta’s death is the second Funny Car fatality in just more than a year.
In March 2007, Eric Medlen died during a practice run after a tire failure. Six months later, popular Funny Car racer and reality television star John Force suffered a near fatal crash from which he has still not completely recovered.
For the sake of the fans who do not enjoy watching athletes’ deaths plastered across the television screen, let’s hope the NHRA follows horseracing and NASCAR with its own sweeping reform.
Scott Silvey is a journalism junior and a Mustang Daily sports editor and columnist.