The Crash Reel: A Sports Movie About the Dangers of Sports

It’s unclear whether Kevin’s refusal to accept the facts comes from the stubbornness of a young athlete or the confusion of a brain-injury patient. His attitude changes, however, after his mother, Pia—whose strength and poise make her an instantly sympathetic maternal figure—arranges a meeting with another snowboarder who suffered a repeat head trauma. When Kevin’s new friend laughs while recounting the time he drove over a sibling with a golf cart (behavior we are meant to understand resulted from his brain injury), Kevin smiles and laughs weakly, then turns to the camera with a look of horror and mouths “He’s crazy.” When they leave, Pia doesn’t have to say anything. Kevin wonders if one more crash—if he survived it—would make him crazy, too.

The Crash Reel also shows just how difficult it is to take measures to prevent brain trauma in an environment where athletes and their fans are obsessed with pushing limits. Pearce crashed trying to land something called a double cork 1080, a trick that was unimaginable five years ago but that White and others began attempting as half pipes started getting bigger and it became possible to get “more air.” The risky escalation isn’t limited to professional sports, either: High-school and collegiate athletes under pressure to play year-round suffer high rates of concussions, jeopardizing their academic careers as well as their ability to safely participate in sports for the rest of their lives.

The film addresses—yet willfully doesn’t make a judgment on—the tricky ethics of accountability for sports injuries. Whose job is it to protect athletes from themselves? Is it wrong to promote, or pay to watch, athletes launch themselves 20 feet in the air above icy slopes at speeds of 40 miles per hour? Interviews with White and other snowboarders reveal no direct answers to these questions. The athletes acknowledge a fear that what happened to Pearce could happen to them, but they resign themselves to the fact that “shit happens.”

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