The recent horrendous “accident” at baseball's Fenway Park, where a fan suffered what was, at the time, called a "life-threatening injury" when she was struck by part of a splintered bat, should ring some alarm bells at MLS.
I have put “accident” in quotes because the word seems to me to be inadequate. The dictionary definition is “a happening that is not expected, foreseen or intended.” Not intended, very definitely. Not expected, well, maybe. But not foreseen?
That cannot be the case here. Protective netting is standard behind home plate, so the dangers to fans -- from foul balls -- are quite definitely foreseen. Obviously, a decision was made by the Boston Red Sox not to extend that netting down the first base line. In other words, a clear danger to fans was dismissed as unlikely, as extremely unlikely, presumably. No doubt there are stats to back up that decision.
But the unlikely has happened, and its tragic consequences make the Red Sox decision look like a very poor one. The good news is that the victim is now expected to recover. I suppose it is likely that there will be legal consequences.
It is an ugly fact that potentially dangerous situations -- e.g. a traffic black spot -- often do not get corrected until a nasty “accident,” possibly a death, happens.
An accident that is waiting to happen cannot really be termed an accident. MLS has just such a situation at a number of its stadiums, where fans are allowed to sit down at field level, along the sidelines, immediately behind the advertising boards.
There they are within a yard or two of the action, sitting at little round tables, eating and drinking. I have no doubt that this arrangement is the brainwave of some superior marketing mind, and that the fans pay well enough for the privilege of getting so close to the action.
The potential danger is obvious. A few seasons ago, it came within a foot or two of being translated into nasty reality. This happened during a game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Red Bulls, in what was then called the Home Depot Center. Red Bull striker Luke Rodgers, evidently exasperated at a referee call, slammed the ball hard into the crowd. Very hard. The ball kept low -- headed straight for a woman sitting in one of these privileged sideline seats.
Luckily, the woman was paying attention. She saw the ball coming, and adroitly, with great coolness, swayed her head out of the ball’s flight.
It made a great YouTube video. But had she not moved -- well, a fan who was in the stadium told me he reckoned the ball would “have taken her head off.” I was told later that she was not a fan, but rather an employee of the Galaxy. What work she was doing down there, no one could tell me.
A dramatic warning that, as far as I'm aware, has been totally ignored. Certainly, there are still MLS stadiums in which these ridiculous sideline festivities, fans being served drinks during the game, continue.
The “accident” -- a ball smashing into one of those neat little tables, disrupting the party, maybe taking out a fan or two -- is waiting to happen. When it does -- and it will -- we will be asked to believe that it was an accident, without the quote marks.
MLS has certainly been warned. After all, the worst of the worst had happened in 2002 when a 13-year old was killed by a flying puck at an NHL game. The NHL responded by putting compulsory safety netting at each end of their arenas. A settlement of over $1 million was agreed between the child's family and the NHL. Luke Rodgers provided an emphatic reminder of that tragedy, and now the events at Fenway Park should have sharpened MLS awareness.
Common sense says those show-off, VIP seats on the sidelines at MLS games should be banned. But common sense never gets too far with the marketing mob. Legal consequences just might.