Throughout history, humans have found various ways to entertain themselves. One almost universal method of entertainment is sports. Every culture has its own sports traditions and games, dating back as far as recorded history. The ancient Greeks were so obsessed with sports and physical fitness that they created the Olympics as both a sports festival and a way of honoring the gods.
While most modern sports contain some inherent risks, precautions have been taken to ensure that athletes are safe while competing. This, however, is a recent change, and most sports throughout history were much more dangerous than they are today. Some sports were even played to determine which team would be used as human sacrifices, so the mortality rates have certainly dropped.
Even in the last century, changes to sports safety have been massive. American football players today wear pads to cover most of their body and a helmet to protect their head. Even with the advancements in protective technology, concussions, and other injuries are still common. By comparison, early football players worn no padding and only leather helmets. Concussions from American football are one of the most talked-about sports injuries, but they are far from the only ones, or the most dangerous. Countries around the world still watch and participate in sports far more dangerous than football, even with the advancements in sports safety. Below are the 10 most dangerous sports in the world.
Horseback riding seems like the perfect way to relax. You are just sitting on the horse, telling it where to go while the horse does all of the real work, what could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty. Horseback riding is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. On average, over 100,000 people suffer from horse-related injuries in the US each year.
The causes of these injuries vary, but they are all related to riding or caring for horses. One of the most common causes of injury is falling from a horse. While it may not seem like a high fall, falling from a horse can be several feet. In the time it takes you to fall that distance, you increase velocity quickly. By the time that you reach the ground, you are traveling at an average of around 20 feet per second. Combine this velocity with the average weight of an adult human, and it is easy to see why these falls can result in broken bones, brain damage, nerve damage, and even death.
Another common, and often more severe, cause of injury is the horse falling. If your horse falls, there is very little chance that you can get off of the horse and a safe distance before you end up trapped beneath it. While everyone knows horses are large, it is easy to forget just how large they are, even when riding one. The average horse weighs in at between 1000 and 2200 pounds. Using the same 20 feet per second as a human falling off of a horse, you can estimate that the force applied when a horse falls, assuming a large horse and a six-foot fall, is approximately 19,000N of force. Converted to pounds, this is almost 4400 pounds.
American football is a very dangerous sport. Anyone who has ever even taken a passing glance at a game can tell you that. Players, at least in high school, college, and professional football are usually well over 200 pounds each, and they are charging each other, colliding with massive amounts of force.
Thanks to advancements in sports safety equipment, injuries from football have dropped dramatically over the past several decades. This is due to improved padding design and materials. The padding that players wear is designed to absorb the impact, rather than transfer it to bones and joints. This has resulted in an injury rate of 8.1 per 1000 players.
Most injuries sustained playing football are temporary and heal on their own. There are some, however, that result in permanent disability, pain, and career termination. One of the most common careers ending injuries is a torn ACL or other ligaments in the knee. These can be partially repaired with surgery, but the player is often not able to return to the game.
While flesh and bone injuries are common in football, they are not the worst type of injuries that players suffer from. The most severe, and previously overlooked, injury is the concussion. For decades players with a concussion were given smelling salts to wake them up and told to walk it off. Concussions were dismissed as minor injuries, but now doctors know that this is not the case.
While a single concussion is unlikely to result in permanent damage, repeated concussions can lead to degenerative brain diseases, depression, and often suicide. While the NFL has invested in improved helmet technology, there is simply no way to prevent all concussions. This is because as the player accelerates, so does their brain inside the skull. When the player comes to a sudden stop, their brain does not, and it impacts the inside of the skull, causing a concussion.
Gymnastics is easily one of the most impressive sports in the world today. Sure, it isn’t as visually striking as some, or as long-running, but it involves a level of athleticism that is rarely seen in other sports. Gymnasts are expected to throw themselves into the air and across rooms, doing flips and other tricks at the same time. Yes, the floor is padded, but padding cannot prevent all injuries.
Common injuries among gymnasts are sprains and strains, fracture, broken bones, and tissue damage. Another common injury is blown, or otherwise injured tendons. The tendons are what connect muscles to bones. While muscles can easily stretch and contract, tendons are not so pliable. If a tendon is overstretched, it can snap, resulting in a blown tendon. Having a blown tendon completely eliminates your ability to use the muscle it is attached to. This is because, without the tendon, nothing is connecting the muscle to the bones.
Gymnasts are also likely to experience cartilage damage over time. If a cartilage disc tears, it cannot heal on its own. In most cases, surgeons must replace the torn disc with an artificial disc. The padding helps to reduce the impact, but if an athlete lands at the right angle, they could easily break their neck. This has sadly happened to many gymnasts.
While most Americans have at least heard of rugby, few actually know much about it. Rugby is football’s more dangerous cousin. It is actually a form of football and uses largely similar rules. One of the biggest differences is that rugby players do not wear pads. This does not mean that rugby is not a contact sport; it certainly is. Rugby is notoriously brutal because of this fact.
One aspect that definitely separates rugby from football is the lack of targeting and universal mutual respect. It is expected that players be respectful to each other and that no players intentionally try to hurt another. This is likely a result of the sport’s lack of pads and increased risk. If a player does attempt to hurt another on purpose, they can be banned from the game. In football, however, coaches often offer players “bounties” for taking out opposing team players. The NFL officially bans this practice, but enforcement is lacking at the best of times.
Thanks to the culture of respect in rugby, major injuries are relatively few. Most injuries are sprains or strains and bruises. Fractures and broken bones are also common injuries. While concussions do happen, they are actually fewer despite the higher risk. This is because when a player is trying to tackle another, they aim for the midsection, not the chest or shoulders. By tackling in this manner, players reduce the risk for both of them.
This one should not surprise anyone. Bulls are large, aggressive animals that are highly dangerous. All it takes is one wrong move around a bull, and it could easily gore you. This sport is popular at rodeos, particularly because of this danger. The rodeos do have safety measures in place, such as rodeo clowns, to get the bull away from the rider when they fall, but it is still very dangerous for both the rider and clowns.
Bulls do not have to use their horns to hurt you either. A fully-grown bull can weigh as much as 2300 pounds, and they like to jump to try to throw the rider off. If a bull lands on you, or even steps on you, after a jump it is going to do major damage.
In addition to the risk of being injured by the bull, the rider is also at risk of being hurt from the inevitable fall and even the environment. While rodeo stages are set up to prevent injury, if a rider falls in the right place, they can cause serious harm. For example, if a rider were thrown into a fence and hit their back, there is a non-negligible chance they could break their spine and suffer paralysis.
5White Water Rafting
Water is one of the most powerful forces in nature. Sure, it doesn’t compete on a cosmic scale, but when it comes to breaking your fragile body, it doesn’t need to be. People tend to underestimate the power of water. That is why you see videos of trucks being washed away by seemingly slow-moving water.
When white water rafting, you don’t only have to worry about the force of the water, you also must contend with the rocks and waterfalls that you encounter along the way. Fans of the movie “Into the Wild,” may remember that McCandless was denied access to go white water rafting through the Grand Canyon. In the movie, this represents the overuse of bureaucracy in America, but the truth is that the system is set up to save lives and reduce rescue and recovery costs.
If you were to attempt to make the trip McCandless made in the movie, you would likely end up dead or stranded within a few miles. Of course, the main cause of death is drowning. There are several reasons for this. First, the force of the water is going to keep you under or constantly being resubmerged. Second, when you are underwater, being thrown around by the river, it is impossible to tell which way is up. Your sense of direction and balance become useless, and you cannot orient yourself properly. Lastly, the likelihood of being seriously injured if ejected from the raft is very high, making your chances of swimming out of the river even lower. There is a reason he was told to wear a helmet.
The Iditarod is one of Alaska’s greatest traditions. It was created to celebrate the journey taken by mushers in the winter of 1925. This was the year of a terrible diphtheria outbreak in the small town of Nome Alaska. Nome is in the far western portion of the state. Even today no roads are connecting Nome to the eastern side of the state. The only ways to get to Nome are by boat, plane, snow machine, or dog sled.
The original serum run, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, began in the small town of Nenana Alaska. Nenana is just southwest of Fairbanks. The entire course of the journey was 674 miles through frozen Alaskan terrain. It involved 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs. For five and a half days, the teams worked in a relay fashion to transport the serum all the way to Nome. The result was that these mushers and sled dogs saved hundreds of lives and prevented further spreading of the highly contagious disease.
To celebrate these brave heroes, the people of Alaska continue to hold the Iditarod every year. The path has been changed at times to accommodate the lower snowfalls and the damage caused by climate change in recent years, but the route remains true to the original, though the modern route is 1150 miles long. This is where the danger begins.
The interior region of Alaska gets cold. Really cold. During the winter temperatures in the interior regularly reach –60 degrees. In addition to the extreme cold, mushers are racing through remote areas with no road access and very limited human habitation. This means that medical help can be hours away by helicopter under ideal conditions. During heavy snows and storm conditions, help may be several days away.
Most football fans tend to dismiss soccer or proper football as it is known to the rest of the world, as a “girl’s” sport, but people around the world know this is far from the case. Soccer is easily one of the most dangerous sports in the world today.
Soccer is a no-contact sport, so players are not intentionally trying to interfere with each other, but when that many people are all running and chasing the same ball, injuries are bound to happen. One of the most common and painful soccer injuries is being stepped on. Players often jump or slide to try to steal the ball. This results in a temporary loss of control. If another player puts their leg under someone’s foot, they are going to get stepped on. Depending on the severity, these injuries usually result in fractures or broken bones. Breaking both bones in the shin is common and career-ending.
It is easy to forget that the shin is actually two bones. The result is that if you break one of the bones, the other can still support the shin while it heals. Medical attention is still required, but usually resetting the bone and plastering the shin in a cast is all the is needed. If you break both bones, however, surgery is required to add support to the bones. If you do not have surgery, the bones heal weakly and can be very painful.
While American football fans love to mock hockey, it is a far more brutal sport than football could ever be. In football, players are wearing cleats for traction on soft turf fields. In hockey, players are on cold, hard ice and wearing skates. Wearing skates at all puts players at a high risk of ankle injuries.
Skates also pose a risk to other players. If a player falls and someone else skates over their fingers, the blades from the skate can easily amputate limbs. Players have even had their throats cut and almost died as a result of the injury. Thankfully for Clint, medical help was close by, and he was able to make a full recovery, though the incident left him mentally and physically scarred for years.
Hockey players also have to worry about other players. Fights and full team brawls are not uncommon in hockey. The referees try to keep players from fighting and put them in the box as punishment, but this does not deter most players. Another serious risk is the chance of being hit by the puck. Like football players, hockey players wear padding, but there are still weak points, and only the goalie typically wears a face shield. Between the speed and weight of the puck, it can easily knock out teeth.
Serious question, why do football players make millions of dollars while cheerleaders, who have an exponentially more dangerous job, make less than $200 per game in the NFL? Seriously, cheerleaders in the NFL make between $75-150 per game and up to $50 per hour for special events. Not only are they unfairly paid, but cheerleaders are also at a much higher risk of injury than the players.
Cheerleading does not immediately strike most people as a dangerous sport, but it is important to look at what they are doing and actually consider the possible injuries that could occur. Cheerleaders do not wear any padding and are regularly 10-20 feet off of the ground and being thrown into the air. All it takes is one mistake for someone to end up breaking a bone or even dying from spinal or other injuries.
Each year up to 20,000 cheerleaders are injured participating in the sport. Similar to gymnastics, most cheerleaders start their sports careers when they are very young, usually no more than five or six. Most injuries occur during practice, not during performances which acts to belittle the danger involved.
Broken bones can occur anywhere in the body, but the legs and arms are the most common because of the activities involved. Ankle and wrist sprains and strains are also a common occurrence. Wrist injuries are usually the result of catching other cheerleaders, while ankle injuries often result from improper landings.
Sports have evolved over the years, just like every other tradition people carry. While the sports of the past may have involved ritualistic human sacrifice, or death to the losing side, modern sports are not without danger. Sports injuries are some of the most common injuries seen today, and they can result in permanent loss of function or even amputation or death.
Most people assume that adrenaline-filled sports such as sky-diving or base-jumping are the most dangerous sports, but the truth is much more pedestrian. This is because of the high degree of safety equipment and limited contact that occurs on these sports. That is not to say that they are not dangerous, but they are certainly safer than most people think.
Some of the most dangerous sports in the world are the ones that you would least expect. Despite the danger, do not expect to see these sports disappearing anytime soon. As a species, humans have always sought forms of entertainment to occupy free time. Sports evolved universally to fill this role, and the threat of injury is as unlikely to prevent future athletes from competing as it was past athletes. As safety equipment improves, you can expect to see lower injury rates, but certain activities come with inherent risks, such as the risk of a cheerleader falling or a football player getting a concussion.