It was a blip on a website that sent Americans rushing to find the video. IndyCar racer Dan Wheldon had died in a 15-car crash on the final race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Open wheel racing fans watched the father of two suffer "unsurvivable injuries," and today they're trying to watch it again from the perspective of his in-car camera.
They're trying to watch Dan Wheldon's last moments before he died. It's a sobering moment for a world so eager to capture sports from every possible angle.
America has become obsessed with the cameras and mics that present the athlete's perspective. Just last week, the Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk was fined $5,000 by the NFL for taking off a microphone that he said was uncomfortable and would affect his play. The fan "experience" got the priority over the player.
And so it is with Wheldon. After spending the afternoon on the sidelines of my kid's soccer game, I came home to hear about Wheldon's death. My husband pulled up video to see what happened, and accidentally happened upon what we thought was Wheldon's on board cam. Fortunately it was mismarked, but not knowing that, I became physically ill and pushed his laptop away.
This man had a wife. He had young children. Did they have to see that? Do they have to live with the knowledge that today people are filled with a prurient curiosity that drives them to seek out a video that shows their loved one's last sight before death? Can't they have some privacy? Can't he?
Athletes perform for the fans. It's their job. But with cameras and microphones, we've managed to take ownership not just of their performance, but of their very thoughts. Drivers can't even mutter a frustration with life without it being picked up by a microphone.
As a journalist, I know footage like this is fair game. As a sports fan, I confess the helmet cams and mic'd up players make for a more interesting TV watching experience. As a human being, I want it all to just go away.
To be fair, what happened to Wheldon is rare; it's been five years since a driver died on an IndyCar track, 10 since NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt perished in perhaps the most famous wreck in racing history. And ABC/ESPN had no way of knowing what would happen as they aired the race. They've described what his camera shows, but they cut away from Wheldon's cam as quickly as possible in the broadcast and so far it seems they have not released the imagery. Kudos to them.
Sadly that hasn't stopped people intent on finding it. There are videos on YouTube of other drivers' cams uploaded by people trying to pass them off as Wheldon's (they're not), and they're racking up the views. Terms like "Dan Wheldon on board camera" and "Dan Wheldon death video" are seeing major traffic on the interwebs.
Today doesn't just mark a sad time for the open wheel racing fans who were in celebration mode up until Lap 11. It should be starting a conversation that goes well beyond the sport of racing. Athletes play for us. They drive for us. Pitch for us. Tackle for us. But we don't own their every movement ... do we?
Would you want to see what Dan Wheldon's in-car camera showed?
Image via amika_san/Flickr