Questions, not blame, should follow accident at Cowboys practice facility

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wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:18 AM

Bird's-view aerial shots of the ruined Dallas Cowboys practice facility at Valley Ranch capture a comprehensive view of sudden disaster that ground-level shots can't.

The sprawling, rectangular frame-and-fabric building looks stomped flat, as if a foot the size of an aircraft carrier had emerged from the clouds and squashed it, an old Monty Python cartoon come to terrible life. You wonder not so much that people inside were injured, but that so many weren't.

This Bigfoot Theory of what happened Saturday is consistent with preliminary National Weather Service findings that the building was hit by a microburst - a violent, storm-generated surge of downward air that can strike with the force of a tornado, but with a lot less warning.

"It's like taking a coffee cup, holding it a foot up off the table and pouring it straight down," weather service meteorologist Joe Harris told The Dallas Morning News over the weekend. The downward column of air strikes the ground and bursts outward, like a heavy torrent of water.

Should there be any doubt that a simple blast of air can do such damage to metal-frame structure, consider what it can do to an airplane. It was a microburst, and the associated wind shear, that slapped a Dallas-bound Delta Airlines jumbo jet abruptly downward in 1985, killing 135 people at D/FW Airport.

This all just highlights the inescapable fact that our usually hospitable planet is not just a large, benign rock, but a complicated synthesis of meteorological influences. It's with good reason that weather has been a natural topic of conversation ever since human beings acquired the ability to converse.

It is also human nature, or at least a primary cultural impulse, to find somebody to blame.

Armchair scapegoating for Saturday's Valley Ranch disaster is already a popular local pastime, both for people who were there and (especially) people who weren't.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was attending the Kentucky Derby, told Bob Costas that "They did not get good warning there" - a possible precursor to blaming weather-warning systems - "and the structure did collapse," a possible precursor to blaming the building manufacturer.

Other popular preliminary targets of the already raging blame-a-thon include trainers, coaches and whoever decided to house a practice field inside a "tent" (even though fabric-clad structures are a common option for indoor tennis courts, swimming pools and other sporting venues).

Free and unsolicited advice being a personal specialty of mine, I'd like to throw out a suggestion.

It's sensible to ask pertinent questions and to try to determine exactly what happened and why.

But, in the case of the 1985 Delta tragedy, it took five years to sort out the arguments over how weather works, how airplanes respond to it, who knew about it, who should have known, what they should have known and how quickly they should have acted. That's five years to settle the central court case assigning responsibility - not including subsequent appeals.

My point is that it's awfully preliminary for anybody to think they have all the answers about who ought to be pilloried for Saturday's building collapse.

It will take time and expertise and perhaps the involvement of tests and experts and (inevitably) lawyers.

In the short term, though, our primary concern should not be finding somebody to blame - that will happen soon enough - but for the injured Cowboys staff personnel and their families, especially for permanently injured scouting assistant Rich Behm.

People are hurt, and they're entitled to our concern. There's plenty of time to dish out the blame.

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