Those of us who have seen Shaun White do a Double McTwist 1260, his signature snowboarding tick, have thought to ourselves, “This guy is crazy!” Ironically, the next thought that comes to mind is “I want to do that!” However, because of the danger associated with the Snowboard SuperPipe at the X Games, many people wisely decide it’s much safer to stand on the sidelines and watch in awe as White, nicknamed The Flying Tomato, attempts a series of flips and turns that can possibly result in serious injury. This danger isn’t exclusive to just snowboarding; it is central to any sport in the X Games, which is likely the reason why it is has become so popular. With other sports like skateboarding, surfing, skiing, BMX, motocross, and snowmobiling, the X Games are enough to please any adrenaline junkie.
Although John Stuart Mill, author of On Liberty, lived long before the inception of the X Games, he would have been a huge proponent of the event. He stressed the importance of freedom and spontaneity in everyday life because he believed society in general didn’t encourage enough of it. If Mill were to see the daring stunts in the X Games today, he would commend the athletes for their individuality and willingness to push the boundaries of societal norms; He would argue that athletes who participate in the X Games are a great example of people who fight against what he calls the “tyranny of the majority.” By performing death-defying stunts, these athletes are expressing their uniqueness and refusal to conform to what society deems is “normal.”
Contrary to public opinion, Mill would undoubtedly admire the spontaneity of athletes who participate in the X Games and wouldn’t mind the high probability of injury that the event poses to them. Although Mill believes in autonomy, except when it places other people in danger, he generally takes a neutral approach to harm inflicted on a person as a direct result of his or her own choices. Mill asserts that when a person is only hurting him or herself, people can advise him or her to adopt self-regarding virtues, but each person ultimately has the freedom to make his or her own decisions. Because of his staunch belief in autonomy, Mill would likely be okay with the injuries that result from the X Games because it’s a consequence of a person’s own decisions.
On the issue of safety in the X Games is where society would most likely disagree with Mill. Because of the “tyranny of the majority,” people are constantly trying to reform safety in extreme sports to make them more socially acceptable. While Mill would probably not show any empathy for athletes injured at the X Games, the rest of society feels it’s their moral duty to regulate the sport and make it safer.
An example of the “tyranny of the majority” was the public outcry for safety in the X Games after the death of Caleb Moore, a Snowmobile Freestyle athlete. With the death of Moore last year, the first athlete to die due to an injury at the X Games in the 18 years of its existence, the X Games and ESPN are working together to make the sport safer for its athletes. Although X Games athletes completely support the movement to make the event safer, they maintain that Moore’s death was a fluke; Moore’s competitor Corey Davis said he had seen Moore complete a backflip on a snowmobile “hundreds of times.” Despite the rest of society’s concerns over the safety of snowmobiles at the X Games, the athletes don’t seem to be affected by the risk of injury. They assert that whenever athletes are pushing the boundaries of their sport, inevitable mistakes can lead to serious injury.
Because X Games athletes continue to attempt more dangerous stunts every year, the future of the event has been brought into question. Will athletes perform safer stunts to reduce the risk of injury or will equipment have to be enhanced to better protect athletes? The answer is unclear, but one thing is for sure; The X Games can’t continue in the dangerous direction it’s currently heading in.