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THE DARK SIDE: The hazards of playing basketball at the firehouse

David Ziemer

David Ziemer

A little while back, I was informed that somebody who plays for the Milwaukee Brewers had injured himself playing basketball and would be out for the beginning of the baseball season, if not longer.

I didn’t recognize the player’s name, and I have no intention of looking it up on the Internet just so I can include it in this column. Because I don’t care.

As far as I’m concerned, the day the taxpayers were forced to build a new stadium for a private corporation, that corporation and everyone associated with it ceased to be relevant participants in the capitalist system and Western Civilization in general. And an injury to someone not relevant to capitalism or Western Civilization is not relevant to me.

But then I read about another employee who was injured while playing basketball, and that piqued my interest.

A captain in the Kenosha Fire Department was on-duty, playing basketball with other firefighters, and he injured himself. The fire chief testified that the department encourages personnel to engage in physical fitness activities while on duty, but the city didn’t think it should have to pay worker’s compensation benefits.

The Labor and Industry Review Commission, the Kenosha County Circuit Court and now the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, all said the city does have to pay. City of Kenosha v. LIRC, Case No. 2010AP883 (Wis.Ct.App., Mar. 16, 2010).

The Court of Appeals found it would be absurd if the Worker’s Compensation Act covered a firefighter who choked on a Dorito while watching “Desperate Housewives” on the firehouse television, but not a firefighter who, “while standing ready, works to stay in shape so as to hopefully avoid being injured while fighting a fire.”

The opinion struck a chord with me. Like the employee in this case, my old man was a fire department captain. And like the captain in Kenosha, it was pretty common for my old man to get hurt while playing basketball at the stationhouse with a bunch of firefighters who were much younger than he was.

The injuries varied from year to year, but invariably, the cause was playing basketball down at the station.

I think it is a fine thing that injuries incurred by on-duty firefighters while engaged in wholesome exercise are covered by the Worker’s Compensation Act. The only other recreational activity I can recall my old man and his colleagues ever engaged in at the station was playing sheepshead and spewing profanity at one another.

Personally, I’d rather play a game of Sheepshead than basketball, provided that we play leasters when everyone passes. Playing doublers just rewards mauerers.

But I’d also prefer that my community be protected by active basketball players than card players.

At the same time, I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if somebody sat these aging captains down and informed them there are other ways to stay in shape than playing basketball with younger subordinates who actually are in shape.

In fact, I remember one desperate housewife in particular — my mother — who used to inform my old man of that quite often. Not that he listened.

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