If Damar Hamlin had died, would you be less likely to watch the Super Bowl?
The National Football League is a $18-billion per year industry, so a lot was riding on that question. Fortunately, the Buffalo Bills safety survived a near-death injury he sustained on Jan. 2 before a live television audience of 24 million. He might even suit up again this fall.
During that uncertain week of Hamlin’s injury, NFL officials faced an unprecedented challenge of deciding how to handle a canceled game, a distressed team, and a worried nation.
But somewhere in New York City, a small group of NFL analysts were likely crunching numbers – laying out economic scenarios for how Hamlin’s death would impact the league. Would people pull their kids out of youth football? Would attendance or television viewership decline? Would advertisers pull out of the broadcast?
God forbid – would Rhianna pull out of the Super Bowl Halftime Show?
The NFL got lucky.
If Hamlin had died, the playoffs and Super Bowl would be taking place amid loud public debate about the danger of football. Instead, the NFL will surely have Hamlin waving to fans from sweet box seats.
There is a very complicated space existing between big-dollar capitalism and the unpredictable realities of life, death, and public perception. When billions are at risk, well-resourced professionals go to extraordinary lengths to manage how you think.
They want you to know that risk exists – that keeps things exciting – but not enough to turn you away.
Do you know how many people die on Colorado’s ski slopes each year?
Spoiler alert: you don’t.
The ski industry contributes $5 billion annually to the state’s economy, and their government affairs operations have successfully blocked past legislative attempts – the last in 2021 – to make fatality statistics public information.
The U.S. Coast Guard can tell you how many people died in recreational boating accidents last year, but no one in Colorado will give you an official number on deaths at the state’s ski resorts.
Do you have the right to know that number? They think no.
The NFL had their potential public relations and marketing nightmare play out on national television. Meanwhile, the ski industry spends generously to keep you in the dark to avoid theirs, avoiding public accountability and awareness.
In 2021, the Colorado Sun did an investigative report attempting to document the number of ski-related deaths in the state. To do it, they had to call county coroners for data the ski industry wouldn’t provide. In their 2017 investigative series “Whiteout,” the Summit Daily News reported at least 137 deaths on Colorado’s slopes in the preceding 10 seasons. The National Ski Areas Association estimates an average of 45 “catastrophic injuries” each year.
If you knew that number – if Colorado law allowed you to know that number – would you be less likely to sign up your middle-schooler for ski lessons? Would you plan your girls weekend on a beach instead of on a mountain?
Maybe you would, marking it up to acceptable risk. Or, maybe you wouldn’t.
My former roommate, Martin, was 32 when he died on an intermediate slope at Vail in April 2008, leaving behind a wife and a newborn daughter. We think he was the 17th and final ski-related death in Colorado that year. Of course, we will never know.
I haven’t participated in winter sports since.
T.J. Sullivan is the CEO of the Parker Chamber. Find him on Instagram at @ParkerChamberCEO.