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Original Issue


Three separate studies in this issue—two articles and a set of watercolors, to be exact—deal with sports that are considered dangerous. And with good reason. One of the articles is Edwin Shrake's report (page 59) on four prizefighters, including Willie Pastrano, the boy from the French Quarter of New Orleans who fought his first professional fight at 15 and whose 14-year ring career has spanned the most confused, imperiled and generally hazardous period in modern boxing history. There were times in those 14 years when Willie expected to quit boxing forever, and there were many occasions when people who love the sport thought boxing could never survive the multifarious scandals and crises that seemed to be destroying it.

Auto racing figures in the pages of paintings and text on the annual 12-hour road race at Sebring, Fla. (page 28). During the years that the Sebring event has grown in prestige and popularity, the history of auto racing in general has often been darkened by crashes and casualties.

And then there is Bil Gilbert's report (page 76) on the intrepid spirits who crash through the brush on the slopes of the Appalachians looking for mushrooms. So far we have not heard of any public demand that mushroom hunting be abolished because the poisonous Amanita phalloides looks like the delectable Amanita caesarea, and people sometimes confuse one with the other. But we would not be surprised if some such movement got under way. In fact, Gilbert's essay prompts some reflection as to which sports are really hazardous.

The most dangerous mountain in the U.S. in terms of climbing fatalities and misadventures is not some towering, sheer-walled, 14,000-foot peak in the Rockies. It is Mount Washington in New Hampshire, only 6,288 feet, with trails and a cog railway reaching the summit. But on its slopes summer storms of intense cold sometimes trap lightly-clad climbers. The amazingly efficient U.S. Coast Guard each year goes out on 25,000 S and R missions—meaning Search and Rescue—most of them for pleasure boats in distress. These have become the main business of the Coast Guard.

The hazards involved in sport constitute a troubled area that sometimes endangers the sport itself. Our position has always been that the risks which are inherent in hazardous sports do not in themselves justify suppression of that sport. They do call for stringent supervision in the case of boxing, and in auto racing for more protection for spectators and for courses and equipment that are as safe as possible. But boxing and racing are expressions of the competitive, risk-taking, adventure-seeking impulses of mankind and, when intelligently directed, are not properly subject to legislative suppression.

Maybe supervision will be necessary for the brave men and women who, with no thought of material gain and no hope of fame for their heroism, search for wild mushrooms. We would prefer to think not. Like most sports worthy of the name, this one has its own inner discipline. In mushroom hunting, as in boxing, racing, mountain climbing and other hazardous enterprises, there is a real difference between calculated risk and casual recklessness. The first exalts and elevates the human condition. The second not only is wasteful, but it invites the kind of suppression that makes the first impossible.