Are professional sports too dangerous?

Almost one year ago the world was shocked to learn that former NFL linebacker, Junior Seau, had committed suicide. Though initial reports were unclear as to why he committed suicide, recent findings have suggested that Seau suffered from a type of brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can cause depression. CTE has been found in brain scans of other deceased NFL players, since almost all of them are exposed to dangerous collisions over the course of their careers.

Football is not alone in being a dangerous sport. Just weeks ago, X-games athlete Caleb Moore died after sustaining severe internal injuries when his snowmobile flipped on top of him while he was attempting a backflip.  Horrifying injuries even occur in sports that are not considered to be “high-risk.”  In 2005, Boston Red Sox pitcher Matt Clement was struck in the head with a line drive, leaving him motionless on the ground. Two years ago, Giants catcher Buster Posey’s season was cut short due to a collision at the plate in which he suffered a broken fibula, along with torn ligaments in his ankle.

An increasingly important debate in professional sports is how to limit the number of injuries that occur each year, especially in high-contact sports like football. As sports become more competitive and the stakes grow higher, players will risk their physical well-being for team success. Steps have been made to increase player safety, such as enhanced helmets built to reduce concussions, as well as stricter penalties for unnecessary roughness. However, the fact still remains that sports-related injuries are having adverse effects on players, even after their playing days are over. The sad truth is that the risk of injury may be causing parents to err on the side of caution when thinking about whether or not to allow their child to participate in contact sports or other high-risk sports. Injuries continue to be a prominent factor in professional sports, prompting the question: are sports too dangerous?

On one hand, it can be said that some injuries, such as Moore’s snowmobile accident and Clement’s head injury, are just freak accidents that no one could have foreseen. This is true; life is unpredictable and there will never be a perfect system in which all injuries of any type can be prevented. However, this neglects to take into account sports like football, where punishing tackles and head-to-head collisions are commonplace. Injuries such as the brain trauma Seau and other NFL players endured can and should be prevented by any means necessary.

The NFL is considering a number of proposals in order to increase player safety. There has been talk of changing the dimensions of the football field, in order to decrease the likelihood of vicious, dangerous tackles. More developed technological advances in safety equipment are being piloted to further reduce the risk of serious injury, but these things are still in the early stages and are unlikely to be mainstreamed for at least a few years.

The debate about whether or not sports have become too dangerous has recently exploded into a hot topic. There are vehement defenders of sports’ safety, such as NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell. The commissioner, who has publicly been reluctant to admit to a definitive link between football and brain injuries, has shown support of the strides the NFL has made toward increasing player safety.

Goodell stated in an interview, “we’re making sure the equipment is the best possible equipment, we’re investing in research to make sure we can address concussions, not just to make football safer at the NFL level, but all levels in other sports.”  However, not everyone is as convinced as Goodell. In fact, even NFL players have spoken on the record about how they believe severe injuries will affect the sports industry in the coming years. Baltimore Ravens’ safety, Bernard Pollard, believes that the NFL will cease to exist in a few decades if significant measures to improve player safety are not realized. Pollard alluded to the fact that the NFL is lucky a player hasn’t died on the field yet, but recognizes that with every hard hit made on a player, significant injury is possible. It is definitely cause for concern when a player who has dedicated his life to a sport casts doubt on the ability of the sport’s officials and rule makers to keep players safe.

This is a debate that is still in development and will not be resolved for years to come. With every significant injury that occurs in professional sports, parents become more reluctant to let their children participate at any level. It’s sad to think about a world without professional sports, but if significant strides toward player safety are not made soon, this may be the direction the pro sports world is moving toward. Fans should expect changes to their favorite sports in order to make sure players are safe while the fans are entertained.