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Andy Prest: Slide tackles, slew-footings and other expensive sports hazards

What lessons can be learned following a court decision that saw a rec soccer player awarded more than $100,000 after getting injured by a 'reckless' slide tackle?
A North Vancouver beer league slide tackle soccer injury wound up in B.C. Supreme Court last month. | simonkr/E+/Getty Images

The way I see it, given recent events in North Vancouver, there are a couple of people out there who might owe me a lot of money. You might be owed some money too, if you share a similar sporty background.

There’s a guy who grew up in Vegreville, Alta. – a big strapping farm boy, as is the custom in those parts – who in an under-19 soccer game absolutely demolished me with a late, hard slide tackle that got none of the ball and all of my ankle. I still have two gnarly bumps on my tibia where his studs hit me so hard that they drew blood right through a shin pad and thick soccer sock. I recall that kid was named something like “Bishop,” although he was no saint.

Then a few years later there was a guy who hammered me in a men’s league soccer game in Edmonton. I have no idea what this guy’s name is or even what he looks like, because he took me out from behind, sweeping my legs out from underneath me as I jumped to challenge for a ball. I remember the feeling of hovering horizontally several feet off the ground – in my memory it looked like some magician’s levitation trick, the Great Tripini ready to slide a hula hoop over me to prove there are no wires holding me up – before slamming full force into the cold Alberta ground. I somehow stayed in the game for a few minutes and even scored a goal – apologies for the boast, but I feel I’m owed something for my suffering – before subbing myself out, barely able to walk.

That night I woke up in the middle of the night, staggered to the bathroom and passed out from the back pain. Months later I was still walking funny, and couldn’t sprint at all. I never could hit my old top speed after that. Anyway, I figure that dude, whoever he is, might owe me a LOT of money. Bishop too, maybe he owes me some cash.

What makes me think this? It’s a fascinating B.C. Supreme Court ruling from last month that saw a North Vancouver recreational soccer player ordered to pay an opposing player for an injury he dealt in a slide tackle. As reported by our Brent Richter, the case examined the question of what level of care players owe to one another while participating in sports. “The league follows the same rule book as FIFA and slide tackles are allowed, but only if players are not ‘reckless’ in how they execute them, the ruling from B.C. Supreme Court Justice Wendy A. Baker notes.”

I don’t know either of the players involved in the case and I’m not here to delve into the details or pass judgment – that’s what refs and judges are for. The one thing that really struck me, however, was the amount awarded to the injured player: more than $100,000. I know inflation is high these days, but dang. That’s an expensive tackle.

And I could certainly use the word “reckless” to describe those couple of hits I took in my younger days, and I’m sure many people who have played sports for a decent length of time can think of similar instances. Back in my high school there was a basketball player who went up for a dunk, got his legs cut out from under him and landed headfirst on the hardcourt. Heck even my wife had her nose broken by a “reckless” elbow from some lout in co-ed floor hockey game.

Should we all have lawyered up? Is this a new age of sport where a dirty play can turn into a down payment (although it is believed the player’s home insurance will cover the tab)?

I can see both sides of this. When you play sports there is a level of competition involved and you don’t want to approach every single physical confrontation thinking it might cost you six figures. I certainly don’t have a slide tackle slush fund set aside (although no one has ever accused me of trying too hard on defence).

On the other side, it seems like it’s not a bad idea to send a message that sports are not Lord of the Flies, that there can be consequences that go beyond a man showing you a little yellow card or telling you to go sit in a box for two minutes.

Maybe it’s sort of like those STOP signs that they put on the back of youth hockey jerseys to make players think twice about hitting someone from behind. Maybe men’s leagues should put a dollar sign on the back of the jerseys.

I know I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do have a sudden interest in looking through my old game tapes to see if anyone I played against got a little too “reckless.”

Andy Prest is the acting editor of the North Shore News. His lifestyle/humour column runs biweekly. [email protected]