On Sunday’s Stage 9 of le Tour de France, a car from French’s 2/3 TV disregarded the instructions to not get into the front of a group of cars, had to swerve to avoid a tree, and ended up taking out 2 cyclists in the leading group. One rider , Flecha, fell to the pavement, while another, Hoogerland, was sent end over end into a barbed wire fence. Both ended the stage, and continue to ride, while only getting a letter sent to one of the riders to serve as an apology. The video was shocking, and the pictures of Hoogerland were even more frightening. Many television outlets would warn people that they might not want to see the graphic video. On ESPN, in America, though, it was laughed at and mocked by a round table of talking heads on their drive home hour show “Around The Horn.” One of the talking heads, Mr Michael Smith, took it a step further and continued to laugh and mock via his twitter account.
I’ve had some time to digest the incident of Michael Smith on Around The Horn, and then on Twitter. I joined the brigade of twitter cyclists that used the #firemrmichaelsmith hashtag, sent tweets to prominent figures in the cycling world, and joined a facebook group. I also took a chance to step back and think about why I was so quick to join the fray of internet people trying to mount a campaign to have a man lose his job.
As with most people that enjoy riding a bike, and happen to live in a populated area, I’ve been a victim of run ins with automobiles. I could run off a list of many altercations, some being both, mine, or the drivers fault. The worst part is, you feel hopeless when you’re involved with something like this. One incident came to mind when I heard Michael Smith laughing at how the car just drives off. Typical biking scene-at a stop sign that I was stopped at, and a car that was driven by a younger driver, probably early twenties, who was fully equipped with a great stereo system and a cell phone in one hand. As I started, thinking that because there was no blinking turn signal, the car was going straight. You know what they say about people who assume….
You would think that having someone hanging onto his car, head and arms actually inside the car, would get someone’s attention. Unfortunately, the loud euroclub music was so loud, and I guess the cell phone discussion so enthralling, that the driver didn’t even look at me until he was already driving straight again. Whatever profanities I was trying to yell at him may have scared him, or the sight of nearly running someone over, but wide eyes through the sunglasses and open mouth was the only reaction I got. Knowing that my legs were not under the car anymore, mostly because the bike was about 20 feet behind me now, I just ended up letting go, since I wasn’t convinced this guy was going to stop. As I laid on the concrete, watching him drive off at excessive speeds for a residential area, I was left to wonder if I my bike was ok, or even more important, I was ok. The car behind was nice enough to stop, allow me to get out of the road, look at me, and then drive off.
As I watched the French 2/3 TV car drive off, I thought of my buddy with the cell phone and euro-club soundtrack. That second car, to me, was Mr Michael Smith, laughing about the car driving off. Thankfully, I didn’t bounce off the road like Flecha, or fly into a barbed wire fence like Hoogerland, but I was left with a little road rash and a deflated sense of safety on a road I had been on so many times before. I guess that second car wanted to make sure I was OK, but they never asked anything, or even said a word, really. On second thought, maybe they were better than Michael Smith.
It was that feeling of anxiousness of nearly being run over by a car on my way to a public speaking class that returned when I watched “Around The Horn.” That’s why I was so quick to attack, I wanted to get back at every person that has made me feel unsafe to ride, afraid to talk about cycling in a crowded area of mixed people, or had made anyone I know that wanted to ride but was hesitant due to road safety. It was that sense of outrage that I had for a car that drove off with maybe just a glance in the rearview mirror that I wanted to take out on Michael Smith.
I still would like for something more from ESPN, and Michael Smith, than a half ass apology. I was upset at the gesture of him laughing, and the continued posting, and I feel like he has a sense of relief, that he’s off the hook for those actions because of that late night tweet. As I’ve thought over everything, I don’t really want the man fired. In fact, a man like that, that could garner so much attention over comments on a TV show, I’d like to keep around. I’d like for him to try riding around-with all the required safety equipment so he’s not in harms way. Some people have suggested commuting to work on a bike, or maybe riding a mountain in France. I’ve even thought back on a comment from Jonathan Vaughters from a TdF promo on Versus a couple years back that explained that all someone needed to do to experience a crash like a professional cyclist would be to wear their pajamas and jump from a moving vehicle going 30-40 miles per hour. I don’t want more harm, though, but there’s something to the idea of giving him an experience that would make him think twice about making fun of an injury to anyone. I don’t really think that firing him will help him with that experience. I wish I knew what it should be, but I’d like to extend the olive branch to Mr. Michael Smith, in hopes that next time there’s a crash in a cycling event, he wouldn’t laugh about it on the set. Of course, then he’d be the only one.