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Safety Can Spoil the Sports Experience, Especially for Wheelchair Users


Michael Wogan was a 22-year-old man who used a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy. Michael was seated in the wheelchair section at an air show in Reno Nevada on Friday where a World War II era plane crashed killing 10 people, including Michael.

To my knowledge, this is the first wheelchair using spectator to be killed at a sporting event. Fans have died in auto racing accidents, at baseball and football games, and even been trampled during soccer matches. This event is the first time spectators have been killed at an airplane race, although pilots have died in the past.

It's ironic because I was at three sports events this summer and was frustrated by increased safety measures that interrupted my view of the event.

There have been two falls from upper decks of baseball stadiums this season. The fans were standing near the edge and fell over a railing to their death. Because of this many baseball stadiums have increased the height of railings. Unfortunately, the new railing height is right at eye level for me, and many other users in wheelchairs. I was a Citi Park in Flushing New York, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and Pocono International Raceway this year. At all three venues the railings have been raised in the handicapped seating area and substantially hindered my view of the event. At Pocono Raceway in particular the view is so bad I probably won't return, which is sad for me because I've been to more than a dozen events at this track.

I was frustrated because the fans that were injured or killed were typically acting irresponsibly, and often intoxicated. Because of their actions it's become harder for wheelchair users to enjoy sporting events, concerts etc.

Because of the airplane show tragedy, we will likely see some changes to the way they arrange seating. I appreciate safety, but at some point you have to realize that leaving your home were always inherently have some danger. I suspect they will start requiring catch fences to the way they do at auto racing events following a Michigan crash of an IndyCar.

As a wheelchair user I've already seen the toll that overzealous safety measures create. Yes, two people dying at baseball games is a tragedy, but considering that so far this season nearly 69 million fans have attended nearly 2300 games (and that's just the major leagues), I'm pretty amazed that there has only been two deaths.

Airplane racing has been around since the 1960s and this is the first time a spectator has been killed at an event.

As a sports lover, father, and wheelchair user I encourage the administration of these venues to not overreact to this tragedy. Tiny safety measures ultimately will create a sense of disconnect between fans and the events. The only way to be perfectly safe as a sports spectator is to stay home and watch it on television. Just try not to choke on a pretzel.

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