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Athletes and speed: a forever problem

Jake Voracek is a very fortunate man this morning, but his car accident highlights an age-old issue.

I was sitting in the office this morning when the word started to spread on Twitter, the word that Jake Voracek had totaled his Ferrari in an accident in the Czech Republic that involved a truck, a tree, a great deal of luck and too much speed. And if you are of a certain age -- or, if you do what I do for a living -- it immediately fills your mind with scary memories.

I remember where I was when I got both phone calls. For Jerome Brown, it was late-afternoonish and I was in my kitchen. It was a week night, early summer. The word that Brown and his nephew had died in a one-care accident in Florida, an accident involving excessive speed, literally knocked the breath out of me -- because I knew Jerome like a beat guy knows an athlete, and because I liked him, and because I had been to his hometown and met his family and, well, just because. That was one of the hardest writing night I ever had -- but, with deadline approaching, something just kicks in and you get it done.

That was in 1992. Seven years earlier, the other call came on a Sunday morning. I was asleep, and the voice on the other end told me that Flyers goaltender Pelle Lindbergh had crashed his car into a wall on a curvy street in Somerdale, N.J., and that I was to get dressed and head over there and begin reporting. They had not yet announced the news that Lindbergh was brain dead. All we knew was that it was horrible.

I can remember some things about that day very clearly, even all of these years later. I remember the scrapes on the low wall where the Porsche failed to negotiate the turn, and getting out of my car to examine them. I remember finding the salvage yard and looking at the wrecked car through a chain-link fence. I remember going to the Coliseum, then the site of the Flyers' practice facility as well as an after-hours club, and talking to people who insisted that Lindbergh was not drunk when he left. What I remember most was all of the people who talked about how much Lindbergh liked speed, and how some people were afraid to get in a car with him because he drove so fast.

There is no moral to this story. It has been true forever -- that young men drive too fast, and that young athletes (with their young-millionaire cars) seem to drive as fast as any of them. You only hope that they are all as lucky as Jake Voracek, even if you know they aren't. You only hope that somebody looks at the photos and that something clicks inside.