On Tuesday, I spoke to a Marian University Sport and Recreation Management class on sport facility management. My subject was the sports broadcasting side of sport facility management, using my favorite weird media story, The Case of the Falling Announcer, except with me, a freelancer, as the subject.
The class wrestled with the question of whether or not the school district that “maintained” (so to speak, given what happened) would be liable for negligence should I, the independent contractor, become injured from my fall through the press box stairs. It also extended to various other points of my broadcasting career, such as announcing games from press boxes during gale-force winds (Kewaskum, 2010) and epic drives to announce games (Midwest Conference, 1998–2001). The conundrum is that independent contractors don’t get paid for games they don’t do regardless of the reason, but should an independent contractor become injured and be unable to do future games, that is future income the announcer won’t have.
(Think that sounds overdramatic? Consider that Bill Stern, one of the pioneers of radio sports, announced a football game between Centenary and Texas, then was in a car crash on the way back from the game. Due to bad medical care, Stern’s leg had to be amputated, which certainly ended his season. One of the victims of the Marshall University football team plane crash in 1970 was the team’s radio announcer, a local TV sports director. The victims of the Evansville University men’s basketball plane crash in 1977 and the Oklahoma State University men’s basketball plane crash in 2001 included the teams’ radio announcers.)
At the end, the professor said that because of fiscal issues, most facility owners won’t make health or safety improvements until they have to — for instance, after a user of the press box takes out the stairs — so the only recourse for us independent contractors is to, as he put it, “Pray to Mother Agnes” (the founder of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, Marian’s sponsoring organization) that one doesn’t become the victim.
That seems hard-hearted, but it is true even for organizations that care for their various constituent groups more than might be discerned from that statement. School districts and colleges formerly allowed their student–athletes to drive or be driven from game to game. Now, after fatal crashes involving even college-owned vans, school districts always, and colleges more often than not, take buses or charters. Safety improvements follow nearly every fatal race crash. The concept of emergency medicine owes considerable credit to the Vietnam War.
After the professor’s closing statement, I said that if fatal misfortune befell me before, during or after a game I was announcing, I’d hope the press box would be named after me. To which one of the students said, “You can call it the Prestebox.”
That student must read this blog. I predict he will go far.