Elliott has a life outside NASCAR. Let him live it

People will be people. Racers will be racers. Chase Elliott? He was just Chase Elliott.

Here’s how the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion broke his left tibia on Friday, an injury that will keep the Georgian out of his number 9 Chevrolet for at least the next few weekends, hoping to return with a medical waiver from the sanctioning body. which will allow him the right to participate in the championship, despite the spring time spent outside the cockpit.

However, let’s be completely clear: he was not careless, he was not reckless. All the 27-year-old did was snowboard. Elliot has been snowboarding almost since he could walk. The first time I interviewed him, my task was nearly impossible—not because he was under 7, but because the kindergartner was too busy doing backflips on his snowboard on the living room couch to answer my questions. questions. The last time I interviewed Elliot, three weeks ago, he tried to get me to snowboard again for the first time since I was his age, and that was some time ago.

Snowboarding is what Chase Elliot does to relax. To get away from it all. To clear your mind of the craziness of being the most popular star in NASCAR. His peers and competitors, drivers who spend their weekdays and weekends doing everything from playing basketball and riding in cycling groups to hunting big game and driving sprint cars on dirt tracks, spent a week expressing full understanding of why Elliott I love skiing the slopes of Colorado.

“Life happens,” Kevin Harvick said this week when asked about Elliott. “You have to be able to go out and live your life to stay sane or this deal will eat you up.”

Harvick’s comments come amid an ongoing debate that has been rekindled by injury, surgery and Elliott’s absence. It’s a conversation that extends far beyond the NASCAR paddock to stadiums, arenas, locker rooms, wherever men and women are paid to compete as professional athletes. It’s also not a new topic. By no means. It goes back to Babe Ruth and his beer-drinking brothers over a century ago.

If these athletes are allowed to put their bodies at risk—the tools by which they earn those dollars from teams, leagues, and sponsors, and in turn make even more money for the people who work for those teams, leagues, and sponsors—by participating in a dangerous activity? The problem is to define exactly what should and/or can be flagged as “dangerous”.

Entire conference rooms filled with league leaders, agents, and insurance specialists squabbled over contracts not signed precisely because of this issue. Entire legal journals are devoted to this topic. Hell, even Tom Cruise gets annoyed talking about it.

“Yes, I can jump off a cliff, but don’t snowboard,” the movie star, who is known for his stunts, explained on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week after a clip of him jumping a motorcycle off a ramp into the Canyon for the next movie. Mission Impossible, a stunt he performed eight times. “Or they’d rather I didn’t get on the skateboard… and look both ways before crossing the street because it’s dangerous.”

Kimmel responded, “Like all rules a Dodgers pitcher has to follow, you must follow as well.”

This is true. It has become standard procedure to include a so-called “hazardous activity clause” in the contracts of Major League Baseball, NFL, NHL, NBA and WNBA athletes.

Literally, the tipping point – or to be more precise, the tipping point – for team owners when it came to dangerous activities came in December 1967. the historically great seven-game World Series bout with Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals, went to Lake Tahoe and tore all the ligaments in his left knee in a skiing accident. His career has never been the same, and the Red Sox, who had just promoted Lonborg, did not return to the World Series for nearly a decade.

Soon every major sports league had a hazardous activity clause in every standard player contract. After that, individual teams began to write special language aimed at curbing the seemingly dangerous hobbies of their investments. Even Michael Jordan had to contend with the NBA’s no-pickup rules by writing the “Love the Game” clause. Hunting, deep sea diving, skydiving, you name it, there was probably an athlete who added it to his personal no-fly list, sometimes quite literally.

When it was revealed that Premier League player Stefan Schwarz was obsessed with the idea of ​​space tourism, his club Sunderland forced him to sign a pledge that he would not attempt to go into space while on the team. Red Sox outfielder Mike “Gator” Greenwell, a NASCAR fanatic, was told he couldn’t drive race cars during the off-season. He retired from baseball in 1996 and immediately started racing, winning the New Smyrna Speedway Speedweeks title in 2000 and even making a couple of NASCAR Truck Series starts in 2006.

Meanwhile, in the permanent world of NASCAR, a business proudly advertised as a collection of independent contractors, a league-wide ban on hazardous activities was impossible.

“Besides,” said Jimmie Johnson in 2006, “the whole business is a dangerous activity.”

The then five-time Cup Series champion was asked about this because he had just broken his left wrist in a fall from a golf cart. No, not falling out of a golf cart. Falling from the top, like on a roof, like fooling around in the off-season. He missed no races and made a full recovery for the Daytona 500 two months later.

His employer, and now Elliott’s, is Hendrick Motorsports, and for years team owner Rick Hendrick discouraged what he considered a dangerous pursuit, including extracurricular short track racing. Because of this, even his most legendary sprint car collaborators like Jeff Gordon and Casey Kahn were sidelined for a week. He has loosened these restrictions over the years, and his team president has already stated that this is unlikely to be lifted due to Elliott’s injuries.

Joe Gibbs, with his NFL background, has kept his riders in check for a long time and isn’t going to change that anytime soon – if ever. Although at one time Tony Stewart rarely paid attention to this. Kyle Busch competed for JGR for 15 years, breaking both legs at the Gibbs Xfinity at Daytona in 2015.

“I raced the latest models and slightly dirty cars and Joe always warned me not to get hurt,” Bush said last weekend in Las Vegas. “Then I got hurt in his car doing things for him, so I thought, ‘Any reservations you ever had were thrown out the window.'”

Johnson was injured while surfing on a golf cart. Carl Edwards once cut his hand while running through a garage and grabbing a toolbox as a lever on a tight curve. In the late 1990s, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, Chase’s father, survived a major crash while driving at 150-plus mph at the Michigan Speedway on a Sunday afternoon…and then broke his kneecap two days later when he tripped over a garden hose in the family garage.

“I need to come up with a better story than the real thing,” Elliott said at the time. “I need to say I rode bulls or got into a bar fight or something.”

That’s probably what Cleveland pitcher Trevor Bauer was thinking when he had to come down the mound in the ALCS, blood gushing from his finger because he cut it at home fixing a propeller on a drone. Or another Cleveland pitcher a few years earlier, Paul Shui, who was placed on the disabled list with a sprained shoulder because he fell asleep in a chair with a newborn baby in his arms. Or New York giant Jason Pierre-Paul, who burned his hand during the Fourth of July fireworks. Or Tigers right-hander Joel Zumaya, who injured his wrist while playing Guitar Hero.

When attorney J. J. Pristansky, now New York Island Counsel, wrote in his 2018 op-ed for DePaul Journal Sports of Law that the provisions on hazardous activities “do not correspond to the intentions of the parties and are difficult to interpret and apply”, he meant all of the above. And yes, 4.5 years before Snowboard Crash Heard ‘Round The Track, he was also referring to Chase Elliott.

At least Elliot was doing something cool. Something amazing. Something he loves. Can we really ask professional athletes, especially racing drivers, to be superhuman and then get mad at them or question them when they do something that is nothing more than human?

We can’t praise Dale Earnhardt for his love of driving bulldozers, felling trees, and smashing a horse down a New Mexico mountainside with Richard Childress, and then annoy Chase Elliot for riding the slopes. We can’t happily tell stories about how Cale Yarborough was struck by lightning, how he fought off a bear on a plane flight and bounced off the ground when his parachute didn’t open and then acted like Chase Elliott was irresponsible because he likes to ollie. powder. And we certainly shouldn’t treat Chase Elliott as an old-school stock car thrill-seeker when he moonlights with the SRX series every summer but then questions his judgment because he snaps his boots on the board in the winter.

No, Chase Elliott just had a bad day doing what he loves. He will be back in his racing car soon. Let him recover, and his leg, and his pride. In the meantime, let’s turn the volume down on any talk about wrapping athletes in bubble wrap before…


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