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September 21, 2004

Technology And New Rules Reduce Football Deaths

FROM THE LATEST EXAMINATION OF THE INCIDENCE OF FOOTBALL DEATHS comes renewed validation of the huge advances in helmets, padding material, conditioning and medical intervention techniques.

By its very nature, football is a rough, full-contact sport. This leads to the perception that football is a very dangerous sport.

But football is not as dangerous as it seems—at least in terms of fatalities. And that’s borne out by a wealth of detailed statistics.

According to statistics from the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, the death rate for football players at the high-school level last year was 0.13 per 100,000 (there were no deaths last year in college football).

Meanwhile, the death rate for male drivers between 15 and 24 was 48.2 per 100,000, in 2001 according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
"It's probably safer than kids getting in a car and driving on the highway," said Dr. Frederick Mueller, who heads the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

Furthermore, playing football is significantly less fatal—on a proportionate basis—than hockey, gymnastics, lacrosse and baseball (see chart below). Women’s skiing has a fatality incidence fourteen times more than college football.

If the football fatality incidence is computed using ALL players on a team—not just those playing the game at any time—then the stats might be a bit out of kilter. At any given time, there are only the eleven men on the field, with another 50,60 or 70 on the sidelines (100 if it’s Nebraska or St. John’s), and not in harm’s way.

Fatalities used to be far more common in football. From 1966 to 1972, football deaths at the junior-high, high-school and college levels averaged 25 per year, with a high of 36 in 1968.

Since most deaths occurred from helmet-to-helmet contact, so a rule change in 1976 prohibited helmet-leading tackles and blocking.

Consequently, football deaths have fallen off significantly since the mid 70s.

More recently, technological advances in head and neck protection such as air bladders, gel pads, Skydex (foam replacement) and neck braces. Better yet, greater understanding of concussion detection and treatment has helped to reduce fatalities as well.

Since 1986, the most deaths in one year has been eight, including zero in 1990.
Among the 1.8 million football players last year at all levels—junior high school, high school, college, pro--there were a total of three deaths.

Kudos to helmet manufacturers, coaches, rules-makers, officials and medical personnel.

More later . . .

College sports fatalities:

• Women's skiing: 7.98
• Men's lacrosse: 1.79
• Baseball: 0.63
• Football: 0.57
• Men's track: 0.41
• Men's basketball: 0.34

No other college sport had any deaths. Football had a serious injury rate of 5.18, behind women's hockey (11.66), men's gymnastics (7.33) and men's hockey (6.25).

Source: The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research

(this 471 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was extracted from a 1785 word article from the Seattle Times of 9-20-04)