My mom doesn’t want me to play football because I might get hurt — she’s all worried about concussions in the NFL, but high school football isn’t the NFL. Still, I’m a little worried too. How dangerous is football?
As I’m fond of telling my girls basketball players, football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport — basketball is a contact sport, and so is soccer.
Injuries can happen in any sport, of course, and can happen getting out of the car, but there’s really no doubt that football is the most dangerous sport of all. The American Journal of Sports Medicine did a study in 2009 that showed that football players were the most likely to get hurt, followed by wrestlers — and then distantly trailing were girls basketball and girls soccer players.
The study focused on serious injuries (athletes were out of action for more than 21 days), and the data came from schools with athletic trainers. If your school doesn’t have an athletic trainer, then the risk of severe injury is probably even higher, because treatment and prevention are so crucial in such a physical sport.
But there’s another aspect to the serious injuries — what kind are they? A severely sprained ankle might keep a player out for more than three weeks, and so might a pulled hamstring. Neither of those injuries, though, is likely to have a long-term impact on someone’s body.
The hamstring will heal, and an adolescent will probably recover fully from an ankle sprain given enough rest. (Some say that any injury that happens before a person stops growing will be just fine with time; injuries that happen later in life, though, won’t ever completely go away.)
Football’s injuries, though, can easily reverberate through a lifetime. A serious knee injury, say, that requires an operation, can lead to arthritis at a much younger age than expected, even if the knee seems completely fine a year or two after surgery. And of course, brain injuries are in the headlines now as more and more information comes out about their long-term effects.
So why link football with knee and head injuries? Because football is a collision sport, and collisions put a lot more stress on the knee than just contact, and collisions are usually what cause concussions.
It is true that the collisions in high school are less dangerous than in the NFL because the players are smaller and slower. All high school physics students can tell you that force equals mass times acceleration, and a 6-2, 210-pound safety who runs a 4.5 40 is going to deliver a significantly more dangerous hit than a 5-10, 160-pound safety who runs a 5.2. Still, it only takes one collision in the wrong area of the body, and significant long-term damage can be done — and maybe never undone.
So don’t just go out for football without thinking about the possible consequences. If the risk is worth it to you and your family, then go for it — but realize that the chances of getting seriously hurt are almost three times greater in football than in basketball.
Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email Coach Kallam at firstname.lastname@example.org
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