When snowmobiler Caleb Moore died due to injuries suffered competing in January's Winter X Games, event owner ESPN responded that it "works closely on safety issues with athletes." Events this weekend in Barcelona suggest the Worldwide Leader's concern only goes so far.
What you see above is skateboarder Ben Hatchell in a gnarly crash from this weekend's Skateboard Park event. Hatchell, like many other competitors, chose not to wear a helmet during his run; this decision is endemic to skateboard culture, which features the following ethos:
[T]his is a universally acknowledged truth in skateboarding: Unless you're skating vert (or transition in general if you're over 40), you cannot wear a helmet. It just isn’t allowed. Helmets are clunky and hot and they make your head look like the top of a penis. Sorry, thems are just the facts.
Even Tony Hawk, lauded by safety advocates for being a helmet role model, has seen backlash post-career for skating sans helmet with his young daughter. (Hawk stated in 2006 he'd suffered 10 concussions.) What could change this culture? ESPN, for one, given that their X Games broadcasts make them the de facto biggest supporter of competitive skating. Simply requiring riders to be helmeted would not just prevent scary moments like Hatchell's but also finally do more than pay lip service to safety in the shadow of the Caleb Moore tragedy. And it's not like every skater opposes helmets; sometimes, the moment itself provides a platform for promoting helmet use.
ESPN must recognize the responsibility they carry with every X Games broadcast that the events featured present significant risk for serious injury and, yes, death. To not take every step possible toward reducing that risk is to be derelict in their duty as a broadcaster, event organizer, and advocate of extreme sports. Requiring helmets for competitors should be that first step.