A few day ago, I wrote about why I think people enjoy watching the Olympics and other sports. I essentially argued that fans live vicariously through athletes in order to
As I wrote though, another sporting issue was waving its arms at me and kind of dancing a jig in the back of my brain, as if to say, “Address me, address me, oo, oo!” Unfortunately, the issue didn’t fit the positive tone of the entry, so I decided to address it here.
Former NFL players are coming forward with chronically painful injuries and suing the league claiming not to have known the risks associated with FULL CONTACT FOOTBALL.
These legal actions have motivated nervous parents to pull their kids from sports programs, and pundits are debating whether, or not, there’s still room in our society for violent sports such as football and boxing. Even the president has publicly confessed a level of ill ease at the thought of his daughters playing organized sports.
I knew how I felt about the topic, but I didn’t want to state any opinion without familiarizing myself with the numbers behind the issue. I did some research and found the following Sports Injuries Statistics in the Online Medical Encyclopedia from the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Basketball. More than 170,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for basketball-related injuries.
Baseball and softball. Nearly 110,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for baseball-related injuries. Baseball also has the highest fatality rate among sports for children ages 5 to 14, with three to four children dying from baseball injuries each year.
Bicycling. More than 200,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries.
Football. Almost 215,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for football-related injuries, with nearly 10,000 of those hospitalized as a result of their injuries.
Ice hockey. More than 20,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for ice hockey-related injuries.
In-line and roller skating. More than 47,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for in-line skating-related injuries.
Skateboarding. More than 66,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for skateboarding-related injuries, with more than 4,500 children hospitalized as a result of their injuries.
Sledding and tobogganing. More than 16,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for sledding-related injuries.
Snow skiing and snowboarding. More than 25,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for snow boarding and snow skiing-related injuries.
Soccer. About 88,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for soccer-related injuries.
Trampolines. About 65,000 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for trampoline-related injuries.
These numbers are an interesting look at juvenile and amateur sports, but I wanted the skinny on boxing and other pro sports. I found such data on the website of the Brain Injury Association of Oregon (BIAOR).
- Nearly 90 percent of professional boxers have sustained a brain injury. ( 2 )
- Approximately 5 percent of soccer players sustain brain injury as a result of head-to-head contact, falls, or being struck on the head by the ball. ( 2 )
- Heading or hitting the ball with the head is the riskiest activity; when done repeatedly, it can cause a concussion. ( 2 )
- Football injuries associated with the brain occur at a rate of one in every 3.5 games. ( 4 )
- Football is responsible for more than 250,000 head injuries in the United States. In any given season 10 percent of all college players and 20 percent of all high school players sustain brain injuries. ( 5 )
- Football players with brain injuries are six times more likely to sustain new injuries. ( 5 )
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in 1997, there were 84,200 skiing injuries (including 17,500 head injuries) treated in U.S. emergency rooms. The CPSC also estimated that 7,700 of those head injuries, including 2,600 head injuries to children, could be prevented or reduced in severity each year by using helmets. About 11 skiing and snowboarding-related deaths would be prevented annually with helmets. ( 6 )
- The head is involved in more baseball injuries than any other body part. Almost half of the injuries involve the head, face, mouth or eyes. ( 2 )
- The leading cause of injury and death is being hit by the ball, the second leading cause is collision. ( 2 )
In-Line Skating, Rollerskating and Skateboarding
- Brain injuries occur most often when skaters fall and hit their heads on the pavement.
- Skating on roads causes a risk of colliding with cars, bicyclists, pedestrians and pets.
- Brain injuries account for 60 percent of equestrian related fatalities, and 17 percent of all equestrian injuries are brain injuries. ( 7 )
- In 90% of the cases, injuries to equestrians that require hospitalization are caused from the rider being separated from the horse while riding or the rider falling with the horse. ( 8)
- In 1999, there were an estimated 6,000 horseback riding brain injuries. ( 9 )
I’ll be honest, nobody in their right mind could look at those numbers and conclude that boxing and football are safe. For that matter, one only has to watch men crashing into one another and fists slamming into skulls, to understand that these sports are dangerous. If observation isn’t enough to convince someone of the risk, the person only needs to watch Muhammad Ali hobbling around with advanced Parkinson Disease, to see what kind of damage these sports can cause.
However, does this potential for damage mean such sports should be banned. The answer is no.
First of all, sports teach kids positive values, such as good sportsmanship, fair play, and team work. They also provide non-academically oriented kids with an incentive to carry a passing grade point average. Police departments, such as the one in Kansas City, use boxing to teach kids just such values and to keep kids from committing crimes by channeling their aggression into a sanctioned event.
Children shouldn’t be abused, but they shouldn’t be taught to avoid everything that hurts either. They should be given opportunities to exercise, to work physically hard, to compete, to learn what victory feels like, and to learn what it feels like to lose. These are important experiences for children; take them away and risk raising a generation of wimps.
Besides robbing our children of such outlets, such a ban would damage society as a whole. In parts of our country, we’ve already outlawed 32 ounce soft drinks, trans-fats in restaurant food, imported unpasteurized cheese, and raw oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t want to live in a world where ONLY perfectly safe things are legal.
According to the stats, people get hurt playing baseball, riding bikes, skiing, and jumping on a trampoline. Should we ban these activities too? Of course not.
Personally, I’m for educating people on possible consequences and allowing people the FREEDOM to decide what risks to take, whether those risks entail eating French Brie, playing football, or boxing.
Of course, freedom doesn’t mean doing what we want with no consequences. Actual freedom offers people the ability to make decisions for ourselves in exchange for accepting the consequences afterward. If someone wants to chug raw oyster shooters they should be able to, but if they do, they shouldn’t be able to sue if they get sick.
Likewise, football & boxing should remain legal, but those who choose to participate shouldn’t blame anyone else if they get hurt. That’s what freedom means.
Sources Associated With The Brain Injury Association of Oregon (BIAOR):
1. Concussion in Sports and Return to School Issues Following Concussion, James P. Kelly, MD and Ronald C. Savage, Brain Injury Source Pediatric Issue, Volume 3, No. 3, Summer 1999
2. American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress on Neurological Surgeons, 1998. http://www.neurosurgery.org/pubpages/patres/faq_sports.html ((February 5, 2001)
3. The Physician and Sportsmedicine - Vol 28 - No. 1 - January 2000, "Acute Traumatic Brain Injury in Amateur Boxing." http://www.physsportsmed.com/issues/2000/01_00/matser.htm (February 5, 2001)
4. Kelly JP. Concussion. LN Torg JS, Shepard RJ (eds.) Current Therapy in Sports Medicine, Philadelphia: Mosby, 1995.
5. Diagnosis and Management of Concussion in Sports, James P. Kelly, MD and Jay H. Rosenberg, MD
6. Centers for Disease Control, SafeUSA: Winter Sports Injury Prevention - Safety on the Slopes. http://www.cdc.gov/safeusa/slopes.htm (January 26, 2001)
7. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 1991-1992
8. American Medial Equestrian Association, Sept. 2000
9. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 1999.