Freedom of choice matters

Luc Bourdon’s untimely death is a tragedy that has nothing to do with hockey. He was a 21-year-old with a bright future. He was well liked by those who knew him. He was a brother. He was a son.

But when calamities like this occur, it is natural to wonder if such incidents could be prevented. And though it may seem insensitive given the events of the past 24 hours, the question is already being raised: Should professional athletes be prohibited from riding motorcycles?

Canucks’ GM, Mike Gillis, did not answer the question during a conference call yesterday, other than to say he had previously cautioned and educated his clients about engaging in risky activities during his previous profession as an agent. Gillis confirmed that many NHL contracts do prohibit “certain activities”, but did not elaborate on the term.

Numerous athletes have been involved in motorcycle accidents in recent years, though most did not suffer the same fatal consequence as Bourdon. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was lucky to escape with only facial injuries after being involved in a wreck in 2006 while not wearing a helmet. Kellen Winslow Jr. missed an entire season with the Cleveland Browns as the result of an accident while learning to ride his new bike in a parking lot in 2005. Former Chicago Bulls’ point guard Jay Williams saw his extremely promising career completely derailed following his accident in 2003.

The rationale behind the argument for banning athletes from motorcycles is primarily financial. Teams that are investing millions of dollars in the physical skills of a player believe they are entitled to exercise some control over protecting that investment.

While I believe that organizations have the right to attempt to restrict certain hazardous activities within the language of a contract, athletes should not be obligated to sign off on all suggested conditions. To restrict specific off-season activities, like riding a motorcycle, is an infringement on the basic freedom we all enjoy in North America. It may be ill advised for athletes to risk their health by engaging in such practices, but it is not illegal.

If leagues can mandate such clauses, where does it end? Should all athletes be barred from consuming alcohol in the off season as the result of some bonehead who gets a DUI? It may sound far-fetched, but this is more about responsible use than it is about prohibition.

Bourdon’s death should be a warning sign to anyone that chooses to ride a motorcycle, but it should not affect that right to choose.

How to make a Scott Rintoul: Mix equal parts college athlete, sports fan and broadcaster. Shake vigorously. Serve chilled Monday-Friday on the TEAM 1040 from 6-9 a.m. or online at thetoulbox.blogspot.com.

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