If sports could all be made non-contact, there would be 49,600 fewer injuries among male college athletes per year and 601,900 fewer among male high school athletes, according to a recent study by researchers at Yale, the New York Times reported in September.
Using the best data available, the researchers estimated savings on medical costs and time lost could be up to $1.5 billion per year for colleges and $19.2 billion per year for high schools. That’s just for treatment and healing in the short run. The long-term consequences of concussions and brain-jarring collisions in retired NFL players can be terrible, including brain damage and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Harvard professor of orthopedics Dr. Mininder Kocher said that torn ligaments can lead to a greater than 50 percent risk of arthritis as little as 10 years after the injury.
Yale economics professor Ray Fair, the senior author of the study, told the Times, “The issue really is that contact is the driving force in all these major injuries. Any sport that does not have contact, the injuries are not that great.” He and his colleagues focused on four types of serious injuries: concussions and damage to the nervous system, bone injuries, torn tissue, and muscle and cartilage injuries. Fair said he and other faculty members at Yale would never allow their children or grandchildren to play contact sports.
The Yale study calls attention to the economic cost of these injuries. Nearly one million students are playing football in high school. With insurance expensive for football players, the cost of fielding a team is rising, and some schools are canceling their football programs. In high school, “the total number of injuries is way higher and expensive,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a founder of the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center at Boston University. “Kids on the high school level don’t have good coaching, and some of these kids should never be playing.” Dr. Kocher hopes that a focus on the costs of sports injuries might lead to funding for prevention and safety.
Stanford sports economist Roger Noll said he noticed that that sports broadcasters use sensitive microphones because the audience “wants to hear heads crack.” He added, “The reason we are where we are is a kind of bread and circuses aspect to football.”