The Shannon Stone Tragedy Ethics Quiz, Part II

Don't try this if you're not a firefighter

 Many commenters were upset with me for characterizing the tragic death of Shannon Stone, who fell to his death while trying to catch a ball during a Texas Rangers game, as the result of his own bad judgment, suggesting that I was impugning the character of a dead man. (I wasn’t.) That reaction sparks the second Ethics Alarms quiz question relating to the incident.

NBC baseball blogger (and lawyer) Craig Calcaterra put up a post this morning headlined “Idiot nearly falls from the stands chasing a ball at the Home Run Derby”:

“Just days after Shannon Stone died from a fall while reaching for a baseball at a Texas Rangers game, a fan at last night’s Home Run Derby nearly fell out of the outfield stands while lunging for a home run ball hit by Prince Fielder.  He was spared serious injury or death only because his friends grabbed him by his feet, held him and then pulled him back as he dangled over the railing above a concrete deck 20 feet below…His name is Keith Carmickle, and common sense is not his forte. His fall came after he stepped up onto the narrow metal table which abutted the railing — the kind you stand in front of and set your drink on while watching the game — and then, while still standing on it, reached down low to catch the ball as it came in…He missed the ball, but his momentum carried him forward and he fell headfirst over the rail. If it wasn’t for his brother’s and his friends’ quick action, down he would have gone. Despite his idiocy, he (a) escaped this dangerous situation of his own making unscathed; and (b) was allowed to stay at the Derby by security. Both of these factors have been added to the “evidence that there is no God and/or that He is not just and fair” side of the big ledger I keep on my desk and in which I tally the wonder and folly of Humanity as I encounter it…”

Your questions to answer, if you dare: 1) Is it fair for Calcaterra to call Carmickle an idiot, and Stone just a random victim of circumstance? 2) Why or why not?

If Carmickle is a reckless idiot but Stone an innocent victim of circumstance, is it because:

  • …Stone died and Carmickle did not? That would be strange. Carmickle’s mistake didn’t cost him his life or make his son fatherless. It is true that one should not assess the widom of a decision based on unforseen conequences, but it takes some mental hgymnastic to find essentially the same conduct more foolish when the consequences are less serious.
  • …Stone’s accident had been well-publicized, so while Stone had no reason to fear falling to his death, Carmickle had the extra warning of Stone’s demise? Craig seems to be arguing this, to which I say, “Really? Stone needed a previous fatality for him to be forewarned that leaning over a guard railing was a bad idea?”
  • …Stone was a fireman, and it’s wrong to suggest that a fireman ever does anything dumb or irresponsible?
  • …Carmickle took a greater risk than Stone? This seems undoubtedly true, based on the photos of Carmickle before he fell. But both fans took a risk, the difference in the nature of the risks being only matters of degree;  both risked falling 20 feet, and both fell. One was caught.

I initially felt that Craig’s characterization of Carmickle as an idiot was too harsh, but the photos convinced me otherwise. However, if he was an idiot, I don’t see how anyone can honestly argue that Stone didn’t make, at very least, a terrible decision. If it troubles you to call it a stupid decision or a dumb decision, then don’t, but recognize that you are basing your assessment of the act on sympathy rather than analysis. Carmickle doesn’t inspire sympathy—not a father, not a firefighter, not dead—so calling him an idiot is easy.

10 thoughts on “The Shannon Stone Tragedy Ethics Quiz, Part II

  1. “Idiot” seems mean, particularly after the very-recent death of Shannon Stone … but given all the press coverage, it sure is tempting when someone does the exact same thing and only survives because he had the good sense to bring quick-witted and quick-reflexed friends with him! Though clearly this is a tragedy based on faulty judgment, not luck. Luck is sitting in a seat and having a ball bean you. Judgment is reaching out for it.

  2. I agree that characterizing Shannon Stone as having made a bad decision is fair (and anyone who considers that a mark on his character needs to poll the population for the percentage of mistake-makers therein). I also feel that Keith Carmickle can rightly be called an idiot without applying that same mark to Stone. Stone made a split-second decision to attempt a balance between safety and ambition with no reasonable expectation that it would lead to his death; Carmickle actively ignored measures intended for his safety, did so for extended periods of time, and did so with Stone’s death serving as more-than-adequate notice.

  3. I don’t think it helps when you try to mischaracterize someone like this as as a victim of bad luck, circumstance, or someone else. This leads to more people doing stupid things, the loss of a lot of activities, and destructive lawsuits. If we just stated that they were an idiot and didn’t give them a lot of sympathy, more people might think twice before doing something that stupid.

    My favorite example was from my high school days. One of my classmates who lived in my neighborhood was driving home at 2 AM on a school night. He had been drinking. He was going over 90 mph in a 45 mph zone. The road had a gentle curve (turned 90º in just over 2 miles with no side streets). He lost control of his car, ran off the road, travelled about 100 yards, went through a fence, flew over a cliff, hit the top of one of the roadsigns that spans the interstate lanes, landed upside down on the interstate, and was hit by a semi.

    This was characterized as a ‘tragic accident’. Because no one wanted to be ‘mean’ and call it what it was, a lot of unnecessary and expensive actions occurred. The mother decided that the road was ‘dangerous’ and got a petition going. The city then had to commission a study on the road to see if it had any design problems. There was a petition to lower the speed limit. There was a petition to put up a strong guardrail over the entire road. By the time it was over, millions had been spent on lawyers, petitions, and studies. All this because no one wanted to tell a mother that her son died because of his own reckless and stupid actions. Sorry but…

    (1) This only tells kids that if they stay out until 2 AM, drink, and then drive excessively fast, it isn’t a problem. Nothing bad can happen from it. To wreck while driving very fast and very drunk must be a monumentally unexpected and unusual outcome if the whole town must stop what they are doing to discover the ‘real’ reason for the tragic death.

    (2) If you haven’t noticed, we’re broke. What vital things don’t get done if we spend millions to avoid telling a mother that her son died because he was an idiot? We can’t afford to do this anymore (or more likely, we never could and that is one of the reasons we are now broke).

    Don’t even get me started on what kind of mother lets her teenage son go out drinking until 2 AM on a Tuesday on a school week…

    • Stone truth, Michael. Sure, there was a time in my life when, to judge by my actions, I thought that I’d live forever. But, ultimately, youth is a poor excuse for stupidity. That kid’s death is a tragedy, but his decision to drink and drive was a stupid one. The accident was avoidable, and he was the one who could have avoided it.

  4. I think everyone at least once in their lives has done something stupid,spontaneous,without thinking it through. If they don’t get hurt we can feel superior and call them idiots but we are relieved that they’re safe. If they are horribly hurt or lose their lives our compassion outweighs our disgust at their stupidity. Yes,they may have been idiots but they paid for it dearly.

    • I think that may be it. If they get hurt, we reason that this is sufficient punishment, indeed excessive punishment. If they are lucky, then we don’t feel bad calling them idiots.

  5. Standing on a table and trying to catch balls next to a railing is the act of an idiot. Standing behind a railing and trying to catch balls by leaning over them and falling is the act of someone who is unlucky.

    Also if you look at the photos of where Stone fell you will see that the railing is higher at the base of the stairs then it is in front of the seats. Why? Because at the lower height the central pivot point on your body is below your waist and if you lost your balance coming down the stairs with the lower railing you would go right over.

    • Unlucky?

      Do this. Imagine that instead of it being a railing 20 feet over a ball field, it was instead a similar rail 800 feet up on the edge of a skyscraper.

      Do you think you could have drug that guy near that rail, much less induce him to lean over it to catch a trinket for his kid?

      Yet both drops had lethal potential. Just because thousands of other foolish people engage in the same behavior, it doesn’t make it any less foolish.

      Millions drink and drive even knowing that 15,000 or so people here die every year because of it. Is one simply “unlucky” if he happens to wrap around an oak tree instead of making it home safely? Is the guy with the .12 BAC simply unlucky while the guy with the 2.4 an “idiot”?

      No, they’re both engaging in risky behavior w/o proper regard for the potential consequences. And they’re both doing because “everyone does it”. Therefore, “everyone” else (such as yourself) psychologically need to make it “unlucky” rather than foolish.

  6. I actually went to high school with Keith Carmickle in Colorado at Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs. He always was the daredevil kind of guy. I remember he played damn near the entire football season with a broken arm and lied to the coach so that he could stay in the game. He had racist tendacies and got into it with a new black kid who called him out. I’m black and I’ll never forget when he came into the locker room looking for the kid and he asked me where the new “nig@er” was because I was black I was automatically cool with the new kid. I played sports also, so I guess that was why I got along with him. I about died when I saw him on Good Morning America. So to answer your question… He always was the typical tough guy. I loved having him on my team in the battle, but off the field he was a jerk and borderline racist- I like to compare him to a Bill Romanowski kind of guy. He’s not an idiot… Maybe bad judgement, but he is very calculated and always takes the opportunity to show how he has more testosterone than the next guy.

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