Usually, I’m pretty excited when triathlon makes it into the mainstream sports media. I think it’s great when media giants like ESPN take notice of what we’re up to. However, I don’t subscribe to the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ school of thought. So this article from ESPN’s Outside the Lines really made me cringe. I’m actually a big fan of the show and its central premise. I just know that swimming is a barrier to our sport for some people and this article really doesn’t scream, ‘come on in, the water’s warm.’
To be fair, I witnessed one of the incidents cited in the article. Dr. Wiggins. It was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll never forget it. I had a hard time thinking of anything else while finishing the article. Does that make me over sensitive to the subject, yeah probably. I found the interactive graphic in the middle of the article especially powerful.
Schreeeeeech…(that’s the sound of me dragging out my soap box.) I think the authors do a great job of describing the risks and responsibilities of the athletes, organizers, and sanctioning bodies and identifying the gray areas (actual or perceived) in between. I’ve always been firmly on the side that believes swim safety is the athlete’s responsibility. If you don’t think the conditions are safe, you don’t have to go in the water. I don’t care about the entry fee, or if everyone else is doing it. Didn’t your mother ever ask you if you’d jump off a bridge just because everyone else is doing it? Mine did, repeatedly. I don’t think any athlete should leave it up to the race director to tell them what is safe and what isn’t. I also think it’s incredibly unfair to ask race directors to judge safety based on the lowest common (or present) denominator. It’s probably unfair to fellow competitors too.
Ultimately, I think people will see what they want to see in articles like this. If you’re looking for a reason not to try triathlon, here you go. If you already participate, you probably see how much safer it is than driving a car. Hopefully, you see that the event organizers are looking for ways to mitigate the risks that are within their control. I personally hope it makes all of us athletes a little more accountable for our actions and decisions. At the very least it should remind us that we are making a choice. This is fun, right?