Why Shaun White’s X Games face plant is worth worrying about

One of the most talked about moments of Friday’s X Games was when Shaun White nailed the deck of the superpipe with his face. And rightfully so.

It happened just before the finals, during practice. And while White was quick to rebound from the nice little kiss on the chin, many watching sensed an eerie Godfather undertone — it felt a lot like a warning.

Hard knocks are part of life in snowboarding. That much we know and even embrace. And as competitors around the world have been ramping up their acts in the race to Vancouver, they’ve been taking some serious hits. As you would expect, almost all of them have been rattled at least once trying to incorporate new moves.

Just yesterday, Australian women’s star Torah Bright suffered a concussion during a morning practice run and quickly withdrew from X Games competition. But U.S. star Kevin Pearce is the biggest reminder of just how serious things are in this game. Pearce is still in a Utah hospital recovering from a traumatic brain injury he suffered on Dec. 31 while trying to perfect a double cork.

Despite all the high-flying risks, and what’s on the line just weeks away when the world turns its eyes to Vancouver, the world’s best halfpipe stars are pushing hard at the Winter X Games in Aspen. Whether this is a wise decision or not wasn’t even considered until White’s little incident.

Call ’em wimps if you want, but there’s a reason why you won’t see Peyton Manning or Drew Brees at this weekend’s NFL Pro Bowl. It’s not that they don’t want the free Miami vacation or to even pal around with their friends, but imagine how hard they’d be skewered if they even risked injury one week before the Super Bowl. And for what amounts to a little more television time? Unforgivable. It’s called priorities.

But comparing the X Games to the NFL Pro Bowl isn’t entirely fair. Even hardcore football fans know the pro bowl is useless. The X Games, on the other hand, does provide a valuable platform to action sport athletes like White. It means something.

That said, with a much bigger platform in Vancouver waiting the U.S. can’t afford to lose White right now. He was the only American to make the podium in Friday’s superpipe competition. With the foreign threat looming larger every day, Pearce is being seriously missed about now. At least his injury came right before the qualifying season. You can’t fault him for that.

But had White’s shot to the head been a serious one?… Well, it’d been pretty unforgivable.

Shaun White shows off his battle scar from Friday night’s finals of the SuperPipe, which he dominated. Photo: Pensinger via Getty Images