Monterey, CA - Watching the fastest motorcycle riders in the world at the Laguna Seca Mazda Raceway this past weekend got me thinking about professional sports and workers' compensation (okay, pretty much everything makes me think of workers' compensation...).
Especially after the second "moto" of the day's ENI FIM Superbike World Championship, US Round when the red flag was thrown twice, when riders crashed at the famous Corkscrew turn, and another crash in turn 11 before the finish line stands.
(Spoiler - series points leader, Britain Tom Sykes, took third in the first race, and first in the second, truncated race to secure his number one points position.)
Being an international race with fans from all over the world in attendance, it was not surprising to also see people glued to monitors around the track watching the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina during a scheduled break in the racing (and unless you are completely removed from any sports media, Germany won, 1-0 in a very close and exciting match).
The friends I attended the World Superbike races with joked that I'm like a child in a candy store there. I love the sound of 28 very high performance motorcycles buzzing in a big group towards turn 2 (Andretti Hairpin) at 140 mph, and the skill, precision and bravery of these riders pitched over at impossible lean angles at 80 mph just inches from each other - times between spots measured in the tenths of seconds.
The athletes are so young - Sykes is only 28 years old and is considered an "experienced" rider. The winner of the support race, the AMA Supersport 600cc class, looked to be only 18 or 19.
It takes young, sharp minds to control a machine at such critical operations, and to muster the courage to do so on the verge of disaster over and over again. It is not a sport for the aged. In fact, the most famous, celebrated and successful motorcycle racer of modern times, Valentino Rossi, at age 35, though still racing, has pretty much lost his mojo.
The top riders make pretty good money. After winnings, salaries, sponsorships, commercials, appearances, etc., the winningest riders can earn millions of dollars a year.
And they need to because their earning ability in the profession of racing a motorcycle is so limited. The less successful riders might make a couple hundred thousand a year, which is insufficient to support them for the balance of their non-athletic lives.
If they have a disabling crash or injuries, then it's really a tough road for the rest of their lives.
So bike racing, while glamorous, is only for a select few in the professional ranks, and frankly doesn't offer a whole lot of life support options for the future. If a racer gets out of the sport without too much disability then there might be a job with a manufacturer, or there might not be - motorcycles and related sports depend on discretionary income of fans - we've seen what happens when the economy tightens up and consumers don't spend.
Which is why I have always been a supporter of workers' compensation programs, or at least the concept of workers' compensation - while some workers are able to make a lot of money engaging in hazardous labor, the vast majority of workers don't.
Racing motorcycles is very dangerous, but to get up to the ranks where one might make a living doing so sufficient to offset the risk of grave injury or death requires participation in the sport, with nearly the same risks, at little to no wages.
Frankly, in racing, you are either in that very, very small segment of the population that can make it a living, or you are just one of the vast majority that incur significant risk for little to no remuneration.
Maybe that's why we don't see much about workers' compensation in the racing world...
After the races, in the hotel room, my buddies and I were watching television - I don't recall what exactly we were watching - but one of the commentators noted that it was a nearly universal concept that when a "good idea" law is written that nearly everyone gets behind it. Concepts are great - people can envision, and embrace, universal ideals.
But when concepts go from law to implementation something happens - distortion gets built in by regulatory interpretation. Then the courts get a hold of the law and the regulations, and attempt to discern what the original concept was from the actual written language, and apply that concept to particular facts.
Then things get interesting.
For instance, the California Supreme Court last week accepted amicus briefs - one where a worker died from a drug overdose allegedly tied to his industrial injury, and another where the maximum statutory rate for a police officer's claim for temporary disability indemnity is at issue.
In the meantime, folks around the country are trying to figure out what to do with repackaged drugs, physician dispensing and compound medications. Since workers' compensation is a state system, the differences are huge from one border to another border. Throw in a Pacific Ocean and the gulf is even greater.
I suppose that when the thrill of the race is removed and the universal concept of sport is removed reality circumscribes dissension. I suspect that if I were to throw all of the various workers' compensation participants in a room together for a day - or perhaps go to the races all together - that we could all agree on what the system should do and how to accomplish it.
But disagreement occurs when one rider takes a different line that might interfere with another's line. And if it causes a collision then all bets are off.
In racing, when the red flag comes out and the track is cleared of hazards, the race is restarted. Leaders are disappointed because they lose their advantage. Riders that were in the back are elated because they get a second chance.
But the truth is that no rider or fan likes crashes or injuries because that is a disruption to the action and the natural order of things as played out with the original start.
Workers' compensation is like that; lines are taken, folks are cut off, crashes happen, races restart. Eventually there is a winner and a whole lot of losers.
But it's not supposed to be like that. Workers' compensation is supposed to be a bland, flat track with everyone on the same equipment doing the same thing.
I wonder sometimes whether the social ideal of workers' compensation can ever be achieved to any great measure any longer.
My hope and ideal is that there are enough "fans" to support a system and make it do what is intended.