There are certain stories you need to mull over a little longer than others. I know the Jared Miller incident at the Jordan Dam is old news to some and, to most, the reaction was the same: He could have easily bought the farm in those rapids for himself and his marshal, Lisa Cox. If you haven’t seen the footage you should.
Obviously, Miller made a huge error in judgment and deserved every bit of the Internet slamming he received. BASS also deserves a healthy dose of the blame for not designating this area as off-limits. While there may be some extenuating circumstances, I cannot possibly imagine what they might be or who could defend them.
Having been the “other guy” in the boat for decades of BASS competition – from the days of Harold Sharp to Dewey Kendrick to Trip Weldon – I never once remember a time when I felt as if they were sending us into clearly dangerous conditions. Of course, some days were sketchier than others, to be sure. It’s just that my impression was always that BASS had a tendency to err on the side of safety. As a result, I’m more than a little surprised at what happened here.
What doesn’t surprise me is the simple fact that bass fishing professionals are professional at only one thing: bass fishing. ESPN proved this, among other things, when they attempted to force feed their NASCAR model for fishing by trying to turn anglers into professional boat racers. I was there and saw it firsthand. Granted a pro’s time on the water should push them to a higher level than Joe Average, but, as we saw with Jared Miller, it doesn’t necessarily do a damn thing for their judgment.
To me, the weak link in the system is with the marshals. Times have changed and so has the dynamic of who is riding along with the pro. There was a time when most of us were getting paid to be there as writers or photographers or both. It was, quite frankly, another day at the office. We respected the anglers and I hope they respected us. At least, there was the unspoken rule that, as a professional angler, you didn’t want to piss of a press guy by scaring the bejabbers out of him or her.
At first, I was willing to give Lisa Cox a pass. That is, until she felt compelled to go on record defending Miller by posting on-line comments that described the incident as “One of those things that can happen to ya [sic] on the river.” A pretty breezy response, don’t you think, about something that could have gone so terribly wrong in so many ways?
In an article by Jim Sexton for Bassmaster.com he writes, “Cox knows of what she speaks having Marshaled for several other Elite anglers”. I might have taken that at face value had Sexton not earlier described Miller as “bravely running up the rapids”. Bravely? Didn’t you mean to say “foolishly” or something in the range of “stupidly”? Right there, I got a big, nasty whiff of BASS damage control.
Just looking at the footage, I think any experienced boater could make a case for what Cox didn’t know about her situation. Or, what she chose to overlook. Either way, there were two people in this boat who failed to tap the brakes, which is, in my opinion, why a marshal is there in the first place. Someone needs to be thinking about something other than catching fish. If a marshal views his or her role as more cheerleader than referee, things like this can happen.
What some of these trip-of-a-lifetime ride-alongs may fail to understand is the power of their position. They can speak up. Hell, they should speak up. Although I never had to exercise this responsibility to its fullest extent, there were a few times when I delivered a veiled threat to someone stepping outside the bounds of common sense. It was said early on with enough of a grin not to offend, but with enough force for them to know I meant it.
It went something like this: “You know, if you keep scaring me and I find myself standing on the seat with my nose an inch away from the front deck as this boat comes down on the back corner - one more time - you will be dropping me off over there”. And, I would point to the shore.
In every case, the pro knew that he was pushing it. Miller knew he was pushing it. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop to realize – as I’m sure the legal counsel for BASS understands – there probably isn’t a liability policy in the world that will cover a boating fatality of this magnitude, one where the last guy to pass any state’s bar exam could effectively argue negligence.
For fun, Google this Latin phrase, “res ipsa loquitur” meaning “the thing speaks for itself”. Then, watch the video - precisely what the attorneys would do. From Jared Miller to BASS to Yamaha, I’m guessing all would be squarely in the legal crosshairs.
So, what have we learned today? First, someone dying in a bass tournament is bad. Second, taking a Dairy Queen is the last thing any professional wants and should be the last thing any Marshal wants to do. Except when the pro crosses the line. And, I’m thinking the line for Lisa Cox was somewhere just below Jordan Dam.