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FROM THIS EPISODE

Big Ben Crashes

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

In the 90's, I joined a group called World T.E.A.M. Sports, the TEAM an acronym for &quotThe; Exceptional Athlete Matters." The raison d'etre of the group is to put teams of mixed disabled and able-bodied athletes together and achieve grand adventures, such as biking the length of Vietnam. That team was comprised entirely of vets, both American and Vietcong. Amputees with prostheses, paraplegics on low-riding hand cycles, blind athletes on the back of tandem bikes. The disabled on that journey were obviously maimed in the war, but most of the disabled athletes I've met over the past ten years with World TEAM Sports have simple stories to tell. A 20-year-old painting his parents' house who fell off the ladder and severed his spinal cord. A climber whose clip malfunctioned and plummeted 60 feet to rocks below. I was in the Houston Astrodome once, about to interview Billie Jean King for the 25th anniversary of her famous match against Bobby Riggs and I got lost in the cavernous halls of the stadium. I exited a service elevator and, even though I did notice the floor looked very shiny-slick, I couldn't stop myself from flying head-high in the air. I was unable to break the fall with a hand or elbow. It all happened in a heartbeat. I hit the floor with the back of my head and my coccyx. Hard. I lay there motionless for a few minutes, scared to death. I couldn't move. There was nobody, nobody around. About five minutes later, I could move my toes and fingers and a few minutes after that, I was fine. It's as Christopher Reeve often said, ---You never know just how close you may be to slipping on the next proverbial banana peel.---

Before you can join World TEAM Sports, you must take one oath and that is that you will not only never, under any circumstances, ride a bicycle without a helmet, but also that you will never ride with anyone who isn't wearing a helmet. Countless times I've met up with friends of friends who argue that we're just embarking on an easy outing, a little Nature ride, and they don't think helmets are necessary. They want to feel the wind in their hair, the sun on their faces. I guess I'm the ogre but I won't go until every head is covered with a helmet. Statistics have time and again proven that when your head collides with asphalt, even if you've been riding a seemingly benign bicycle quite slowly, it is your head, 100% of the time, that suffers.

And that axiom gains exponential truth when it comes to motorcycles. Haven't you been on the freeway or in crowded street traffic and seen someone scoot by you on a motorcycle without a helmet? It's so abundantly clear that should that individual fall off or crash off that bike, the chance of the impact not injuring his head would be remote at best.

The defending Super Bowl Champion quarterback, the player whose jersey by far outsold those of all other players last season, lies in a hospital bed in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger had seven hours of surgery on his face on Monday. He'll live. He evidently won't suffer any brain damage. But he has incurred serious trauma, multiple fractures, and his immediate future with the Pittsburgh Steelers is in obvious jeopardy.

There is no mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists in the state of Pennsylvania... which blows one's mind. But it seems to me a 24-year-old with the responsibilities of showing up for his teammates, of performing in good faith for his multi-million-dollar contract, could at the very least wear a helmet when buzzing around on his motorcycle. But Ben was too free-spirited for a helmet. It inhibited his fun so he refused to wear one.

Thank God Ben Roethlisberger is fundamentally all right. All I have to say is, it was heartening that he strongly stated in his first post-accident session with the press that, if he ever rides a motorcycle again, it will certainly be with a helmet. Let's hope this one man's lesson learned fans out to thousands of others and saves them possible tragedy.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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