Sunday, July 29, 2018

A note from the Dept. of Going Off Half-Cocked

Last week, I ran across this in my Twitter feed:

I thought that was a good question, and I retweeted it. And that was retweeted, etc. I've spent the last few days in a sort of slow-rolling conversation over social media, with people saying basically, "Well of course he's insured" [I think] and "Class of '79 is gathering money for other expenses, such as the expenses of his family, staying near the hospital" [I think].

Like a lot of people on (anti)social media, I am prone towards sensational and provocative statements that, in hindsight, I should probably have just kept to myself. But now that I'm into this, I'll try to explain myself...

Cycle News ran a story from AMA Pro the other day explaining that "To clarify yesterday’s statement: Funds raised will be used to cover expenses above and beyond medical insurance and support provided by Indian Motorcycle, his sponsors and existing additional support."

To be clear, I've not heard from anyone at Polaris. I haven't heard from Brad or anyone in his family – though Brad and I have had enough of a journalist-subject relationship that I now almost consider him a friend, as well as a source. So I don't fucking know what insurance coverage he's got, or what the financial implications of his recent crash will be.

I do know this: Earlier this year, I had a conversation with Brad in which he told me that while Jared Mees was essentially a freelancer, running his own operation out of Kenny Tolbert's shop in Texas, that he and Bryan Smith were "employees". His word.

So maybe Mees is responsible for his own insurance coverage, but what about Baker and Smith? I imagine that insurance and disability coverage are defined in their contracts with Polaris. I imagine that AMA Pro Racing also provides some supplemental coverage (which would seem typical for a sanctioning body) and I imagine that part of the licensing procedure is showing proof of medical insurance. I've often had to attest that I was insured in order to go racing, but I've never had to actually provide proof of valid coverage. Many amateur racers who rely on employer-provided coverage are probably not covered because there are lots of insurance contracts that specifically exempt the insurer for responsibility for injuries incurred in any speed contest.

To recap, I know fuck all about Baker's actual insurance coverage. Anyone who wants to fill me in, on or off the record, please contact me.

None of this is a diss in any way on the Class of '79 charity. I just wish it wasn't needed in this case.

I wish no one needed the Class of '79 to step in and help out with medical expenses. But it certainly shouldn't be needed when a factory rider gets hurt. That kind of help should be reserved for cash-strapped privateers. Brad might need a lot of help right now, but whatever he needs, it should not be money to "cover expenses above and beyond medical insurance and support provided by Indian Motorcycle..." etc. It would be a lot better if word came back right away, "Thanks for your prayers and best wishes but please don't worry about money; Polaris has that part covered."

Baker is justifiably popular with dirt track racers and fans, and the various fund-raising efforts will probably generate a significant sum most of which will be donated by people who specifically want to help Brad. Whatever amount is disbursed to Brad and his family by the Class of '79 or other charitable groups, that amount should be donated by Polaris, back into the Class of '79's fund for use in the future by privateers who can't expect the support of a multi-billion dollar company.

Funny thing about the Class of '79, which included Wayne Rainey: those were the days when the Grand National Championship exported riders to the World Championship. For a while, the U.S. dominated Grands Prix. Now, we bemoan the scarcity of Americans at the top level. There are a lot of reasons why Europeans now dominate – not the least of which is, we taught them how to race dirt track! But one contributing factor is the Euros all come from places with nationalized health care: They don't have to factor in either outrageous annual insurance costs or the risk of a medical bankruptcy after a serious (or even relatively minor) injury.

Yes, the cost of health care is ridiculous in the U.S. – far higher than in any other first-world/developed nation, all of which have better population health outcomes than we do. I would not be surprised if the total bill for Baker's treatment runs to seven figures, and the reality is that if it'd happened to Marc Marquez in Spain, there wouldn't even be a bill.

That's not Polaris' fault, but Polaris certainly knew what it was getting into when it decided to go racing. Now it should step up. It's great that the Class of '79 was so quick to cobble together a fund-raising program, but it should not have been needed in this case.


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