When you hear the phrase “dangerous sports,” your mind immediately turns to things like auto racing or MMA—sports where fiery crashes and bloody faces are commonplace. But here’s thing: if you don’t play the sport, it’s not dangerous. And the vast majority of athletes out there in North America do not take part in auto racing or mixed martial arts. So if we’re talking about “danger” in sports, we’ve got to start with the sports people play most.And so we did. Today’s list of the most dangerous sports weighs two statistics: the sheer volume of injuries per sport, and the percentage of participants in a given sport who sustain injuries.
You knew this would be #1 before we even started. But you probably didn’t know just how much more dangerous football is than other sports. Sure, it was second in total injuries to basketball with 2,490,000. But there are so many fewer people playing football, which means the rate of injury is astronomically higher: 4.85%.
basketball is so popular that we forget how painful it can be. Last year basketball won the overall category with a whopping 2,560,000 injuries reported. And they came in 3rd in the injury rate category with 1.85% of participants getting bruised and battered.
After motorsports, cycling is probably the sport in which you’re most likely to get killed. Racing is dangerous. Mountain biking is dangerous. Just riding around block is dangerous. That’s why there were 2.49 million cycling injuries reported last year, the second highest total. And the injury rate was 1.29%—not staggering, but the 5th overall and just a half percentage point behind skateboarding at #2.
Hardly shocking, is it? The whole point of skateboarding is to do stuff that’s dangerous until you master it. And while the official sanctioned competitions wear lots of protective gear, the kids thrashing on the street usually do not—which is why there were 676,000 boarding injuries reported last year, for 1.86% of the participants. That’s the second-highest injury rate of any sport.
There weren’t as many total baseball injuries reported last year (763,000) as softball injuries because more people play softball in one of its various forms (casual slow-pitch or competitive fast-pitch) than America’s pastime. But the percentage of baseball players who get injured is higher: 1.31%.
Why is this softball pitcher wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask? Probably because her coach has seen one too many kids get teeth knocked out by line drives. After all, the pitcher rubber is just 43 feet away in softball (instead of the 60’6″ in baseball), and a pitcher’s follow-through would take him or her (but usually her) even closer. So that’s probably has a lot to do with the 1,000,000 (1.11% of participants) softball injuries reported last year. That, and the fact that a lot of people probably play the game drunk on Miller High Life.
7. Horseback Riding
Like lacrosse, we don’t have enough data on horseback riding participation to know what percentage of riders get injured. But since horses are kind of expensive and difficult to care for, we’re going to assume the vast majority of people don’t ride no horses. And that makes the 316,000 injuries reported last year pretty astounding. We’re talking 3x the number of injuries as in hockey, but there’s no way there are as many horseback riders.
8. Ice Hockey
Raise your hand if you assumed ice hockey would be higher on the list. I mean, we’re talking about a sport where the pros just accept the fact that they’ll lose most of their teeth, and kids have to wear a cage on their head and 30 pounds of protective gear just so they don’t get killed.
Unfortunately there aren’t enough registered lacrosse players out there to know exactly what percentage of them can expect to sustain injuries. But we do know there were about 96,000 of them reported last year, 10th most among all sports. And if you’ve ever watched lacross, you know it’s a gritty game…and sometimes downright violent.
Like tennis, golf doesn’t seem like a very dangerous sport, and ultimately it’s not (unless you play a lot in Florida and don’t keep your distance from the alligators. But people still get injured more than you’d think. Last year .18% of golfers reported injuries, which comes to 127,000. As with tennis, there surely were a lot more that injuries that didn’t get reported—probably because most of them were sustained from jumping up and down or smashing their club against a tree in anger.