"Hey! Can you hear me AND that semi?"
The statistics may favor us but ear buds tempt fate
Whenever I need to formulate an opinion on anything important, I go to the finest information source in the world: the public comments posted in response to Internet articles and blogs. No other source has a better collection of even-handed opinions and fact-based information. Second place goes to comments posted on Facebook, where people effectively engage in political debate knowing how readily the other side will change its mind through cogent, unemotional exchanges of dialogue.
I mention these solid resources because I recently felt the need to gather hard facts and opinions to justify a policy I recently began to practice whenever I'm out for a run, bike ride, or cross-country skiing. Silent sporters learn early on that whenever they approach a fellow runner, biker or skier it is customary to exchange greetings. A simple nod or "Hi" or "Great day for skiing" or "Last month's Footloose column was really something, wasn't it?" Things like that.
But I've noticed that more and more runners sport biceps belted with iPods and trailing wires leading to buds stuffed in their ears; same thing with more and more cyclists. And when I approach, pass or get passed by ear-budded silent sporters, my greetings have been met with a look that says "Ooh, there ain't no other way, baby. I was born this way."
This is apparently preferable to listening to real tweets from real birds, the rustle of leaves, the cacophony of crickets and bullfrogs or the approach of the semi about to cross the intersection in front of us. Sometimes a silent sporter plugged with ear buds will react to a nod or the movement of my mouth, but it's always a half-hearted effort; a grunt, a lazy wave akin to shooing awayn a gnat. No spoken word can be heard over the screams through their ear buds of "C'mon, make your colors burst, make 'em go oh oh oh!"
I don't understand silent sporters blocking out the sounds of nature after traveling to nature to do their silent sports. And it makes even less sense in urban areas. So I no longer wave, nod or say hello to these folks. Call it my little protest. I protest because there are risks inherent in blocking out the sounds of danger, such as another cyclist shouting out "Passing on your left!" or the aforementioned semi crossing one's path.
Perhaps my passive protest takes too lightly the consequences of listening to music while out on a silent sport adventure. After all, we're talking no less about the possibility of injury and death.
As a lawyer, however, I've noticed many things about being serious on a subject. One is that many people don't seem to listen to serious words. I have therefore turned to the comments posted in reply to a random, biased article on the Internet, to justify my snubbing those silent sporters who tune in the Pop 40 while tuning nature and urban noise out.
I Googled "iPod", "crashes" and "music" and found a 2009 blog post by Peter Walker, a reporter for British newspaper The Guardian. Walker cited an unnamed study concluding that the best way to protect cyclists is to reduce bad behavior by car drivers. Risky behavior by British cyclists, such as listening to music while cycling, had not significantly contributed to the sudden increase in cycling injuries and deaths in mid 2009. The blog noted that the study seemed to contradict a "spate of recent reports" blaming much of the 20 percent increase in cycling deaths and serious injuries on the cyclists themselves.
Following the blog post were 64 comments posted in response. "Knackerknees" wrote in part "Why, as cyclists, should it be our responsibility to constantly try to avoid being maimed or murdered by idiots in cars etc. and then if the worst happens be held responsible soley [sic] because we choose to cycle?" In response to "Knackerknees", a commenter named "rquick" replied quite intelligently - "If you want to live, you better take that responsibility in your hands" - before getting political and blaming the government for supporting drivers over cyclists, and then claiming pedestrians violate red light traffic signals much more than cyclists do.
I've never understood the debating tactic of pointing a finger at a wholly different problem, as though that somehow makes the first problem go away. As a kid I tried that after I broke a window. My mother responded with "But the window's still broken."
As a child of the '60s, I've often thought how great it would be to listen to "Helter Skelter" while skiing down Bitch Hill, and "What a Drag it is Getting Old" on the way up. But how well would that mesh with other skiers bombing Bitch Hill while blasting "Hooked on Yodeling" through their ear buds while a skijorer is crossing paths up ahead as he "wastes away again in Margaritaville?" Hey, it could happen.
Statistical reports take in the numbers based on the words of witnesses and survivors (which is inherently unfair for the dead people involved) and come up with statistics for the advocates on each side of the argument to debate till they've blogged and commented themselves silly. Buried by the debate, nevertheless, are real life and death situations that have left behind loved ones and friends. I know that most ear-budded silent sporters are unlikely to face tragedy owing in whole or in part to the use of their ear buds. Statistically speaking. That is until tragedy happens to them.
In a motorist vs. silent sporter collision, the car driver is the one who survives physically unscathed. Being able to assign blame to the motorist on the body casts or headstones of ear-budded silent sporters changes nothing. It's painful enough to read in this magazine about great people who did wonderful things before their lives were cut short or diminished by a careless driver. Because such tragedies have occurred, I don't understand why any silent sporter would knowingly increase the odds against themselves by wearing ear buds.
That is why I won't say hello or nod to fellow silent sporters with ear buds. It's my little protest, no doubt, and it is entirely ineffectual. So, too, is my silent wish to each of them: "May the statistics forever be with you."
Bruce Steinberg is a father, husband, lawyer, novelist and a silent sports enthusiast in St. Charles, Illinois.