Are Sports Getting More Dangerous?

By David Rajecki

It is pretty obvious that sports and athletic activity can cause injuries, but what is the accepted amount of danger or number of injuries per season? Who decides when rules should be changed because a sport has become “unsafe?” Moreover, what role does the media play in affecting how and when organizations or leagues change certain rules? Also what is the balance of safety and danger that will still keep the fan coming back?

On February, 23, I attended the Georgia v. Belmont baseball game at Foley field in Athens, Georgia. It wasn’t halfway through the first game that someone got hit by a pitch. Later, reliever Blake Dieterich nearly took a line drive to the shins. However, it wasn’t until late in the second game that a high fastball knocked out a player from Belmont after hitting him in the chin.

Safety in sports has always been a concern but the past few years have made it more of a hot-button issue. The question is how many people have to get hurt before pro sports leagues start changing regulations and establishing more safety precautions? Some leagues have already made some positive changes in making game play safer. The NFL has made changes to their helmets and created the Neurological Care Program for post NFL players to have neurological care for life. (NFL Neurological Program)

Pro sports is not the only avenue seeing changes in safety regulations. As many saw last football season, the NCAA changed the touch-back distance to the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line to encourage more touch-backs. Also if during game play a player’s chin strap comes undone, he has to go to the side line until the next play. To say the least these changes were not welcomed by everyone.

Major League Baseball hasn’t been the same after the Kansas City Royals 3rd base coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck in the head by a line drive ultimately killing him. This is the reason that you now see base coaches always wearing helmets.

The MLB has more recently focused more energy into finding protective headgear for minor league pitchers after Doug Fister took a line-drive off the head during a game last October (Video/Article). These protective helmets/inserts would be reinforced with Kevlar, the material used in law enforcement and the helmets worn by NFL players. These inserts are being manufactured by Unequal Technologies Co. and designs are being developed for a consumer version of these inserts that would run around $60.

Reinforced Baseball Hats (Link)

Obviously most of the excitement of going to a sporting event is the not knowing what is going to happen and wanting to see some type of drama; injuries cause a lot of drama. For instance a huge part of going to a NASCAR race is the excitement of “is there going to be a wreck?” If everything was extremely safe all of the time there would be no fans left. Sticking with the NASCAR example, one of the worst wrecks in racing history happened over the weekend and it generated a ton of buzz and media coverage. Twenty-eight fans were injured by pieces of Michael Annett’s race car (#32) that were flung into the crowd. NASCAR is already looking into more safety precautions for the future.

So how many injuries are too many, and how will the fans respond to extreme safety precautions? These are questions that will have to be continually answered. The media has helped tremendously (even though not intentionally) in making sports safer in many ways by making the danger of sports a public issue not simply an organizational issue.

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