Friday, August 5, 2011

What is safety? What is politicking?

I have no objection to regulatory measures meant to protect the public safety. There are times when it takes the presence of government to ensure that things are done properly because a business might merely want to believe that measures cut into their profit margin.

Yet learning that Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this week signed a bill into law that some want to think will make youth soccer programs safer makes me think that not all measures mean much.

THIS PARTICULAR MEASURE, which has taken on the name “Zach’s Law,” isn’t likely to change a thing. I don’t believe we’re any safer now than we were before.

Yet some politicians were able to use the death of a boy to drum up a controversy that they then used to score political points for themselves.

This particular law says that soccer goals now sold in Illinois must be designed in ways that make them tip-resistant. Or else they have to be anchored to the ground upon which they sit during matches.

Considering that many soccer programs are using open fields that serve multiple purposes (not all of which are athletic), it is just a reality of life that the goalposts are not permanently mounted onto the field.

THE “HOME” TEAMS often bring the goals with them, carry them out onto the field prior to the match – then have to remove them once the match is over. Some might say that this merely adds a little more time to the preparation and cleanup for a match. I’m skeptical.

I also can’t help but notice that the new law will only apply to goals sold once the law takes effect – which is on Aug. 2, 2012. Does this mean athletic programs need to hold off on purchasing a pair of goals for the next year?

Because the idea of tip-resistant goalposts won’t apply until then.

Maybe sporting goods suppliers will have to hold significant markdowns to sell off the goals they now have in stock. What I suspect will happen is that there will remain for quite some time goalposts in use in Illinois to which the new law will simply not apply.

IT’S NOT A legal loophole. It’s more like a sieve!

Yet political people were eager to vote for this measure when it came before the General Assembly during this spring session. All because it had a sad story attached to it.

The story of Zach.

Zachary Tran was a 6-year-old from suburban Vernon Hills who died in 2003 after a goal tipped over during a team practice and landed on top of him. Considering that I remember how small my own nephew and his teammates were when they were six-year-olds playing youth soccer, I can easily comprehend how severe the injuries can be.

THE 186-POUND goal most definitely weighed more than the boy.

Yet I can’t help but think of what happened to Zach as being the ultimate fluke accident that cannot truly be anticipated, and to which no amount of legislation could ever protect us from.

What happened to Zach actually reminds me of a death over a decade ago in the central Illinois town of Towanda. It was during a youth baseball game in which a boy was hit by a pitched ball in the chest.

It was something about the exact moment the ball hit him, combined with the rhythm of his heartbeat, that caused the heart to stop beating when the ball hit his chest. Had either the ball or the heartbeat been off by a fraction of a second, the beaning in the chest wouldn’t have been fatal.

I GUESS WE’RE lucky that no political person tried to use that incident to push for laws regulating youth baseball equipment even further than the regulations already call for.

Any politician who thinks that we are significantly safer now that “Zach’s Law” is in place (including the sponsoring state Rep. Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills, and state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan) is delusional. Or, they’re lying.

It bothers me when the images of cute kids get used by political people to try to create legislation to make themselves look more favorable.

Perhaps Link thinks that giving us “Zach’s Law” this spring overcomes the fact that he sponsored the casino expansion measure that, among its many provisions, ever-so-conveniently puts a casino in the 2,000-population town of Park City – which is little more than a couple of mobile home communities located in Link’s Senate district.

DON’T GET ME wrong. I don’t have a hang-up about Zach. I usually get offended anytime a bill takes on some child’s name – as though we’re supposed to feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves if we don’t back their overbearing bill that usually does little to change the practical reality of the law.

Such as down in Florida, where the people who demonize Casey Anthony are pushing for a bill known as “Caylee’s Law” – which would allow for felony charges against a parent if police believe the parent is not sufficiently cooperative with investigations into their missing children.

As though there aren’t already enough laws police can use to seek charges against those who don’t cooperate with their investigations. But voting for Caylee will be something that the Casey opponents will use to shame political people.

I’d like to think that somewhere, Zach and Caylee and every other child who has had his (or her) name appropriated for political purposes is looking down upon us, shaking their heads in disgust at the scene we have created.


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