Following the gruesome and very public death of 25-year-old snowmobiler Caleb Moore at the Winter X-Games this January in Aspen, Colorado, ESPN has decided to forego his controversial competition — not that they're acknowledging it.
Bloomberg's Erik Matuszewski reports the sports network has cut snowmobile and motocross "best trick" competitions from any further iterations of the X-Games, its 18-year-old extreme sports challenge. Previously, riders on snowmobiles or specialized dirtbikes would throw themselves off a huge jump to attempt the gnarliest spin or flip moderation they possibly could. It often produced some of the Games' biggest highlights—and, of course, its biggest injuries, leading up this year's fatal one.
An ESPN spokesman told ESPN's very own newswire that the decision to cut the events was not tied to Moore's death at all. "Moto X Best Trick and Snowmobile Best Trick were not dropped in response to what happened in Aspen," the ESPN spokesman told ESPN. "This decision was under consideration before Aspen, and, in fact, our review of Snowmobile Freestyle continues."
This is ESPN's official statement on their reasoning for eliminating the best trick events:
"This change reflects our decision to focus on motor sports disciplines which feature athletes who also compete in multiple, world-class competitions [e.g., professional events and tours] reflecting the highest degree of athlete participation, competitive development and the global nature of our X Games franchise. Over the past 18 years we have made more than 60 changes to our competition lineups at X Games events to capture the evolution of the sport and these continue that growth."
When you wade through the P.R. jargon, this translates roughly to: We want to focus on competitions that aren't only featured at the X-Games. So, while there are other freestyle snowmobile competitions, there aren't very many "best trick" competitions. It just so happens that the decision came two months after an athlete died in a freestyle snowmobile competition attempting a variation of a trick — the backflip — that's very common in "best trick" competitions. Total coincidence, guys. Nothing to see here.
So, while there was no prior indication that either "best trick" competition was up for elimination, this was the statement ESPN released on the day of Moore's death:
As a result of this accident we will conduct a thorough review of this discipline and adopt any appropriate changes to future X Games.
For 18 years we have worked closely on safety issues with athletes, course designers and other experts. Still, when the world's best compete at the highest level in any sport, risks remain. Caleb was a four-time X Games medalist attempting a move he has landed several times previously.
But the two decisions aren't related. Nope, not at all related. Millions would believe you, ESPN, but somehow we don't.
The dangers of X-Games events have climbed steadily over the past few years, culminating this winter. Moore attempted a backflip during the snowmobile "best trick" competition, but his machine under-rotated. The snowmobile's skis dug into the ground and slammed the machine down on top of a helpless Moore. He was able to walk away from the incident, but was later admitted to the hospital for a concussion and bleeding around his heart. Following complications after surgery, Moore became the first X-Games athlete to die from injuries suffered in competition.
ESPN is still deliberating whether or not to cut the snowmobile freestyle competition. But the decision to preemptively cut motocross "best trick" is interesting. It, too, has led to major injuries for some of the biggest X-Games stars, though nothing approaching the same level as snowmobiling. Notably, in 2011, Travis Pastrana — one of the most decorated athletes in X-Games history — broke his foot and ankle during a motocross best trick competition on the first day of a planned three-day blitz of events. The Pastranathon, as it was called, was ruined. And it turns out, Pastrana is pretty bummed with the decision to cut one of his favorite competition — arguably the one that brought him the most fame. "Best trick was my favorite event both as a competitor and a spectator," Pastrana told ESPN. "Usually these athletes were capable of landing their trick in a foam pit or on special set up but under pressure, they rarely did which added to the dangerousness of it. Either way I was a fan of this event and will be sad to see it go."
Whether this decision indicates freestyle motocross, one of the biggest draws at the Summer X-Games, is in danger of surviving with ESPN remains to be seen. But you can be it will be dangerous.