Friday, September 6, 2013

Our "Safety-first" Society is turning us into Sissies

Yesterday was supposed to be a very fun day in my household. 
At 5PM my two sons were scheduled to play their first football game together as members of a local junior varsity squad.
At 8:30PM we were scheduled to be sitting in my game room as the new NFL season got underway.
So much for schedules.
With about 38 seconds to go in the first half of their game, my youngest son intercepted a pass to give his team a huge momentum swing.
Then, our new age of over-zealous, over-careful, over-protective, over-reaching, "lets all run and hide from everything that might get us" society took over and killed the momentum.
Back to that in a moment.
Back in the 1970's and early 80's when I was growing up in small-town, Oklahoma, I recall that pretty much every day of my life was spent without parents, lawyers, teachers, school officials, police, the FBI or anyone else watching us as we were outside playing.
We played tackle football every Saturday in the Fall and never saw one adult standing by with a first-aid kit or set of rules for us to go by.  We bled, we ached, we sometimes fought, but we were allowed to figure things out on our own, wipe away the blood on our own and proceed in our implicit journey towards becoming young men. 
During the spring we played baseball without thousands of pages of rules and safety precautions.  We were allowed, while one batter was batting, to stand in the "on-deck circle" a few feet away.  We were allowed, while running the bases, to run over an opposing player who got in our way.  I recall once, as catcher for my pony-league team, getting run over by a bigger kid who launched me several feet in the air.
My coach's response?  "Don't stand in the baseline next time."  And that was it.  No ejections, no speed-dialing an attorney, no parents screaming about the unfairness of it all.
During the summers we would get on our bikes and ride - with no helmets - several miles out into the countryside to an abandoned gravel pit.  The company had left years earlier and all there was left was a huge hole in the ground with man-made cliffs surrounding it.  From the cliff to the water below was about 20 feet.  We would take our bikes, ride as fast as we could and do our best Evel Knievel impersonation by flying off the cliff into the sparkling water below.
Years later we would drive our cars and trucks down highway 93 to the Frasier Creek bridge and take turns jumping off the bridge into the creek below.  The distance of our drop?  About 50 feet.
I could go on and on about the times we played outside during lighting, rain, small hail, tornado warnings, dust storms and so forth but I need to get back to my son's game yesterday.
Right after my boys' interception the dreaded "lightning alarm" went off, indicating that somewhere between the field and Northern Africa a lighting bolt had hit.  So, we all were told to take cover for the "mandatory" 30-minute wait before it would be clear to play. 
This being Florida, lighting kept hitting here and there so we waited and waited.  At 7PM the signal was sent to go back out.  4.1 miles away, at about 7:01 one more bolt hit and the game was called due to this "safety concern".  Of course that was the last strike, the sun came out, people sat around chatting and nothing happened but the kids on the team once again learned that "Oh, my gosh, at all cost and no matter what, the safety of our poor children must, did I mention at all cost, come first!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Heaven forbid we ever look at the fact that the odds of being struck by lightning is 1 in 700,000 according to the National Geographic Society.
The odds of being murdered?  1 in 18,000.
It gets better.  73 people a year die in America from lightning.  153 people a year die worldwide from falling coconuts.
The other odds of dying?

Heart disease
1 in 5
1 in 7
1 in 24
1 in 38
1 in 63
Car accidents
1 in 84
1 in 119
Accidental poisoning
1 in 193
MRSA (resistant bacteria)
1 in 197
1 in 218
1 in 1,134
Bike accident
1 in 4,919
Air/space accident
1 in 5,051
Excessive cold
1 in 6,045
Sun/heat exposure
1 in 13,729
1 in 60,453
1 in 79, 746
Train crash
1 in 156,169
1 in 340,733

There you have it folks - My kids had a better chance of having a heart attack while riding in a car driven by someone with the flu who was trying to murder them for lighting fireworks while eating cancer-causing food than they did of being hit and killed by lightning.

By the way, did I mention that when we got home to watch the Broncos-Ravens game we had to wait 33 minutes because of a lightning delay?

Some day, historians will marvel at how our nation went from being one brave enough to fight off the British Empire to one that would eventually have to tell our enemies to please wait until it stopped lighting before resuming battle.


  1. Odds don't seem to have anything to do with concerns. People are afraid of flying but have no trouble riding in a car without seat belts.
    They eat high cholesterol foods and lay out in the sun to get tanned but freak out if you tell them you own an AR rifle.
    Maybe it has to do with choice. If people die because of a choice they made, then they are happy with that. They don't want to die due to something where they have no control.

  2. Without question, the funniest thing I read all day was your bit about falling coconuts. Wonder what the death rate is for paintball?

  3. You have some great childhood memories. I wonder if your parents knew what you were up to?
    Maybe it is better if they did not know.
    I image the other team thought of the lightening as divine intervention???
    I do agree that the population in general is getting way too paranoid and hyper vigilant.

  4. Jack,I'm trying to understand the implications you intend from this piece. Real men let their kids bike down 436 without helmets? Real men tell their families not to bother buckling their seatbelts? Real men buy shrimp from that with a cooler on the corner because he's not regulated by the FDA? Would that make one not a sissy?

    We've all done the kinds of stupid things that you bathe in a haze of nostalgia here, and the ones of us who aren't crippled or dead are lucky that we made it through. Fact is this is a litigious society, so if for no other reason than that the county is going to shoo people out of the stadium if lightning is close so that they won't get sued.

  5. Russ,

    I read your Sentinel column responding to my piece on America's character. I am sorry, but you totally missed the point of my article. I never said that being poor means you don't have character or virtue and I sure did not say or imply that someone mowing Valencia's grass or serving me a drink is without character. I thought your response was totally off, showed no understanding of what I was addressing and failed to respond to the crux of what I was saying. In short, you did what liberals always do. Read between the lines, see only what they want to see and then offer up an emotional, poorly thought-out response that has nothing to do with anything.

    p.s. Did I say, "Real men, blah, blah, blah..." No, I did not use that phrase. I offered a blog on PROBABILITY THEORY that was intended to shed a humorous light on how silly we are to worry about things that carry low odds of doing us in. Did I say anything about riding on a busy highway or seatbelts or shrimp? Nope. You assumed and invented things I did not usual.

    That said, I am grateful that you at least have the guts to get on here and fuss at me. Most people don't.

  6. Thanks, Jack. Glad we can have a dialogue, even though we're talking past each other.