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Nashville Scene Warning! Warning!

Beware of lawyers at work

By Walter Jowers

JUNE 21, 1999:  Last week, at the Little League field where daughter Jess plays softball, somebody put up some new signs in the dugouts: Sliding is a potentially dangerous maneuver. Injuries can and do occur when sliding is practiced.

I don't know who put the signs up, but I've got to tell you: I smell lawyers. This is more of their "adequate warning" weasel talk, which last year gave rise to this warning label on a ball of string: Do not use in situations where personal safety could be endangered. Never use this product to secure large flat surfaces or objects which could "airplane." Misuse could result in serious injury or death.

I think maybe there's just one lawyer who writes all these warnings. They all sound like the same guy's work--passive voice, loopy phrasing, weird stuff like turning "airplane" into a verb. I want to find this lawyer. I want to look him in the eye, smell his breath, observe his haircut, clothing, and twitchy mannerisms. I want to know what makes him get up in the morning, and what makes him do what he does all day.

Could he believe that Americans aren't warned enough? Right now today, our water heaters are covered with more labels than a race-car driver's suit, complete with pictures of a hand getting scalded and a guy actually on fire. It would take all day to read all the warnings on a new ladder. A cup of filling-station coffee bears the warning, Please enjoy your hot beverage with care. Surely, today's Americans are the most warned people of all time.

I think we'd be better off if we just stuck with the basic warnings. Stuff like don't play with fire, don't drink and drive, don't eat the yellow snow. And the all-important one: If you're the lawyer who gets stuck with writing all the little warning signs, maybe you should apply for a job at the Gap.

Once you get past the basic warnings, most people can do risk assessment all by themselves. For instance, any ball-playing child who can read the phrase "potentially dangerous maneuver" knows that sliding means running full-out, then throwing your legs out and your hands up, and scraping your butt across a few feet of infield dirt. That's why you wear special padded underwear to slide.

If we're going to warn every child of every potential injury, we'd better start the day they're born. Don't stand up, little bubba--standing can lead to falling. If you walk, we're going to have to put you in time out. And don't even think about running.

If we're going to try to scare kids out of sliding on a ball field, we can just forget about football. If we keep cranking up the severity of the warnings, every first-grade boy will have to watch a video loop of Joe Theismann's career-ending leg injury. And if boys want to take up boxing, we can just show them films of Muhammad Ali, who was probably history's most graceful human until Joe Frazier got ahold of him.

Eventually, even the kinder, gentler sports will be exposed as ticking time bombs. At the little-kid level, soccer consists mostly of players kicking each other in the shins. Sometimes the little shinbones break. And you haven't really seen an abrasion until you've seen a deep, weeping, dirt-encrusted Ultimate Frisbee abrasion.

Of course, I am not in favor of injuries, especially to children. The fewer injuries there are, the happier I am. But I say if we're going to warn people about the potential for injuries, let's drop the weasel talk and warn 'em straight up. For instance, I'd change the sliding warning to this: Sliding can hurt. It's just like falling down, except you plan it. If you don't want to slide, don't slide. But do us all a favor and go out for soccer next year. See how you like hitting a ball with your skull.

I'd change the string warning to this: If you can't use a ball of string without hurting yourself, you're hopeless. Just go ahead and plan on getting hurt a lot.

About this time last year, daughter Jess played in two Little League All-Star games. The folks who prepped the field left home plate sticking up too far out of the ground. In the first game, Jess stole home, banged her knee into the plate, and got a medium-deep cut on her left knee. We bandaged her up, and she went out to finish the game. The next night, she stole home two more times, each time opening the cut in her knee a little deeper. When it was time for her to go out on defense, she tried to play left field, but she couldn't stand up. I took her out of the game, and that was the end of her season.

When softball season came back around, Jess asked for a set of knee pads. This year, no protruding home plate, and surely no lawyer talk, is going to keep her from stealing home.


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