Athletes' Hobbies Can Be Risky Business
May 15, 2005
By Carlos Frias
Palm Beach Post
Imagine the danger faced by someone racing a jet-powered boat. It skims so fast over the water that driving it is like low-level flying.
It's the type of boat you see getting airborne, doing a carnival of flips and smashing into splinters on a TV show with a title like World's Deadliest Crashes.
Now imagine Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins' No. 1 draft pick, racing those boats for fun.
That's exactly what quarterback (and former Santa Clara University star) Dan Pastorini did in the early 1970s while playing for the Houston Oilers. Pastorini, a first-round draft pick, raced "top-fuel" boats capable of reaching 140 mph. Hitting the water at the wrong angle at that speed is like hitting the wall at Daytona.
"It was really more of a kite," Pastorini said. "It was scary sometimes."
Still, there was nothing in his contract preventing him from racing his jet-black boat, Quarterback Sneak. In the time before multimillion-dollar contracts, there were few rules about what players could do in their down time. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson played for the Harlem Globetrotters while under contract to the St. Louis Cardinals. And Dallas Cowboys fullback Walt Garrison wrestled steers in rodeos.
It all makes the motorcycle riding of Kellen Winslow look tame. But in the NFL today, millions hang by the thread of a knee ligament.
Winslow's career is in jeopardy after he flipped over the handlebars of his sport bike May 1 while riding in a parking lot. Winslow, a Cleveland Browns tight end from the University of Miami, hurt his knee and sustained internal injuries.
His contract, which included a $4.4 million signing bonus, stipulates that he would have to repay it if he were injured while riding a motorcycle, The Associated Press reported.
"I don't know what he was thinking," Pastorini said.
This from a man who set four jet-boat speed records, all while under contract with the Oilers, and was in a crash so serious, "you see your whole life flash in front of you."
When Pastorini retired from boat racing in 1976, he wanted to race top-fuel dragsters, which can cover a quarter-mile in about five seconds. But word got back to Oilers General Manager "Bum" Phillips.
"He made the comment that he didn't want his starting quarterback racing a car that needed a parachute to stop it," Pastorini recalled.
Pastorini acquiesced, and his next contract prohibited him from racing any vehicle.
"Racing was my passion, but football was my livelihood," said Pastorini, who now is 55 and still races a Porsche in the Grand Am Road Racing series. "I respected that."