The economic cost of contact sports

By Ray C. Fair and Christopher Champa (pdf), here is the abstract:

Injury rates in twelve U.S. men’s collegiate sports are examined in this paper. The twelve sports ranked by overall injury rate are wrestling, football, ice hockey, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, tennis, baseball, indoor track, cross country, outdoor track, and swimming. The first six sports will be called “contact” sports, and the next five will be called “non-contact.” Swimming is treated separately because it has many fewer injuries. Injury rates in the contact sports are considerably higher than they are in the non-contact sports and they are on average more severe. Estimates are presented of the injury savings that would result if the contact sports were changed to have injury rates similar to the rates in the non-contact sports. The estimated savings are 49,600 fewer injuries per year and 5,990 fewer injury years per year. The estimated dollar value of these savings is between about 0.5 and 1.5 billion per year. About half of this is from football. Section 7 speculates on how the contact sports might be changed to have their injury rates be similar to those in the non-contact sports.

Here is NYT coverage of the piece, and an excerpt:

When he goes to Stanford football games, he [Roger Noll] said, one of the things he notices is the television production people on the sideline walking around with parabolic microphones.

“I’ve asked them why they do that,” he said. “They are catering to their audience. The audience wants to hear heads crack.”

A bit like how they soup up Planet Earth II with all kinds of phony noises for the animal movement.


'The audience wants to hear heads crack.'

Really? Then maybe DC really was different, as a significant number of Skins fans would listen to WMAL while watching a game (yes, that is a way to date someone).

Generally, when someone is pandering, it is not their audience they are pandering to, but their belief in what an audience wants.

"Injury rates in twelve U.S. women’s collegiate sports are examined in this paper. The twelve sports ranked by overall injury rate are wrestling, football, ice hockey, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, tennis, baseball, indoor track, cross country, outdoor track, and swimming."

Didn't know there was enough women's football players to get a representative sample? Nice to see some progress.

Might want to reread for comprehension.

"Generally, when a God is pandering, it is not their creation they are pandering to, but their belief in what their creation wants."

So true. Gods only think they know what we want.

We called it "hearing the pads pop." There's a massive difference between delivering a hit and running into someone, and it's a learned skill that has to be relearned every year. You can hear the difference between a preseason scrimmage or early season game and late season game as well.

Something that you see in High School but gets hidden in Division I college and pro games is the helmet damage. The teams on TV have enough money to replace or recondition helmets between games, but high schools use the same helmets all year long. As a line man, my helmet would have gouges through the protective outer layer and into the hard plastic halfway through the year. By the end of the year the decals would be gone on the front half, and there would be more paint from other teams than my own. Coaches would often watch that: The direction of the streaks would tell them if you were keeping your head up and "seeing what you hit" (lateral streaks from the front) or putting your head down and risking neck injury (vertical streaks from the crown.)

A lot's changed since my first year on the varsity team in high school, where our primary concern was neck injuries and you just had to man up and live with the headaches for the first two weeks of practice until they went away.

Bah, this was a reply to Steve Sailer's comment below this.

From the sidelines, there's a big difference in how loud the hits are between a high school junior varsity game and a high school varsity game.

So there's more injuries in contact sports and that's more expensive? You don't say.

Especially when one *defines* the "contact sports" as the 6 of 12 sports that have the highest injury rates.

Well, in all fairness, all six of the contact sports actually have players 'contacting' one another as part of normal play (are you still allowed to hit the other players with your stick in lacrosse?), without being instantly disqualified as would occur in the other six listed sports (though how one would do that in tennis is a bit hard to imagine, and 'incidental' contact is likely allowed in a certain fashion for the longer distance running sports, though most certainly not at a level considered normal in soccer or basketball).

Football is a collisions sport.

Old-time Lacrosse involved more collisions than today's game. The play is too fast.

What about rugby (no helmets or pads)? Too small a sample? Two sons played in university. Both had noses rearranged and bruises/bumps. One fine young fellow developed, MD said "water on the brain" and was told to stop playing. He kept at it. Today, he is ok. The players love that game. .

If I recall the stats correctly, rugby has more injuries, but of a different type. It has fewer long-term debilitating injuries (concussions and brain deterioration, blown-out knees), but more broken bones and strains.
I've also always found it interesting that football and basketball have higher injury rates than boxing.

>I’ve also always found it interesting that football and basketball have higher injury rates than boxing.

Re basketball, one key difference is that practice is generally full-speed, game-conditions. Injury rate per minute is probably less, but each player is at risk for many, many more minutes.

Basketball involves full speed turns and cuts, putting tremendous strain on knees and ankles. Also players frequently jump and land on other player's feet, turning ankles in a very dangerous way. The result is that serious knee/ankle injuries are common. Head injuries are very uncommon. In boxing, the gloves keep the punches from breaking bones and joints (especially in the puncher's hands). Most of the injury is low level repetitive injury to the brain, which doesn't tend to show up clearly during the active participation phase of the sport.

Football is a double wammy. It has all the high-speed cutting and running of basketball, but made more dangerous by doing it on turf in cleats. And then the object for many players is to use their helmets as weapons. Decades ago, as a HS football player, I was told that every year a handful of HS players died from injuries on the field. After my first concussion, I stopped playing.

I played rugby in college. I have not played football past the peewee league level, but I have watched a lot of football. Based on this limited experience, I believe rugby is a rougher sport, but not as violent as football. Rugby players do not wear pads or helmets which limits how hard you want to hit someone else (I think there is some law of thermodynamics about equal and opposite forces). More important - I think - rugby is a continuous play game, so as a player you are usually winded and tired, and chasing the play. You do not get to catch your breath after each play, rest on the sideline after each set of downs, and between plays line up to make sure you have a good bead on that guy you are going to hit. Thus, there is less solid full speed direct collisions.

I think that continuous, surging, back-and-forth action is also part of the reason why rugby seems to have fewer knee injuries than basketball or football. I don't see people playing rugby running full speed and making sharp 90 degree cuts very much.

I heard an Englishman talking about trying to teach Americans to play Rugby. Apparently a typical beginner's error is to try to import the ferocity of American Football tackling into Rugby tackling, and these beginners find that the action in Rugby is too continuous and too frequent for that to be sustainable - you don't get time to recover between plays, and there is no offense/defense split.

(I don't know about the statistics, but Rugby in the UK works hard to reduce an injury rate they worry about - there is a lot of attention at all levels to proper play in the scrum to reduce the risk of devastating neck injuries, and in the professional game there are periodic campaigns against various sorts of dangerous fouls).

I suspect that injury risk in many sports ends up being set at a level determined as much by how much risk the players and officials are ready to accept as by the intrinsic risks of the sport.

They missed the self-injury sports: skateboarding, mountain biking.

3 broken bones, one surgery, here.

Many/most men like physical challenges and like risk. You can eliminate professional football and there will still be millions of men climbing cliffs, jumping out of planes or off bridges, hiking 6000 miles in a year, hunting in Alaska or Africa, etc. Most of the complaining about football injuries is done by those seeking a money settlement OR those not even involved in the sport for their own reasons.

So, leave it to the markets.

No government institution should be involved in contact sports. After all, many/most men already like physical challenges and like risk. Stop subsidizing injuries, real men can pay for risk by themselves.

I doubt they take into account the long term economic costs of the damaged knees and such from high school football that materialize as knee replacements 40 years later. Not to mention the lower productivity of someone carrying a debilitating injury from school sports through their working life.

Most of the sounds do not come from the helmets hitting.

The distinctive sound of the lines colliding comes from the shoulder pads.

Sounds do make the difference. Consider golf, not a contact sport and one would assume that noise makes no difference to golfers or golf fans. But one would be wrong. Golfers and golf fans alike want to hear the distinctive noise made when the golf club strikes the ball, the noise made when the golfer Dustin Johnson strikes the ball an appealing noise indeed. That's why there are many blind golfers but few deaf golfers.

Golf is a game, but not a sport.

If archery is an sport, why golf not?

A shooting contest, included with games at the Olympics for martial tradition.

"The audience wants to hear heads crack.”

Anonymous sources and more fake news from the New York Times. The audience wants to hear uniforms coliding (helmets, shoulder pads) and player vocalizations. I'm not aware of a head cracking on a football field.

No defender of the NYT but that's a direct, attributed quote, not really fake news as it's commonly understood.

Are these injury-related costs internalized or externalized (relative to the players making the decisions what sports to play)? I would think internalized. However, if externalized, then it would be strange to blame fan demand for hearing the pads (not heads) crashing. If there were a problem with externalized injury costs, then the problem would be players deliberately seeking out injury-causing sports and not considering the injury-related costs to non-players. I think it's fair to say that players, not non-players, are the main victims of injuries.

Brazilian sports are schools of virtue, American sports are schools of crime.

I have been re-reading Mr. Sidis' book on the American system. It is chilling and apalling how barbaric America already was in the early 1900s.

Brazil is the inventor of Vale Tudo ("anything goes" fighting). The son of Vale Tudo fighter Helio Gracie would later move to California and co-found the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Mr. Grace's style was invented as a weapon of self-defense, to protect innocent people from scrupleless people. Brazil has a history of creation of martial arms for the defense of the oppressed that goes back to the Blacks' capoeira (that was outlawed by the slave owners' imperial regime). Mr. Grace's style proved so efficient, it has being adopted world-wide. Brazil also perfected knife-wielding art martials styles:

However, Brazil does not glorify mindless, unreasoning, ammoral violence the way Americans do. Violence is to be avoided unless it is unavoidable. Brazil helped Paraguay to arm itself and defend itself from Argentina until Paraguay attacked Brazil, then Brazil trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. Even then, though, Brazil treated well prisoners, helped the injured and treated with justice the Paraguayans (meanwhile, tyrant Lopez forced kids and women to fight for him and murdered all who opposed him).
Meanwhile, American games, as Mr. Sidis proved, are like the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome!

how come no one has translated this?

The earliest use of the term "camera obscura" is found in the 1604 book Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena by German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer Johannes Kepler

" The estimated dollar value of these savings is between about 0.5 and 1.5 billion per year."

Very precise estimate. Could a plumber submit an estimate to replace your water heater of "between $600 and $1800"? Typical statistical balderdash where numbers must be attached to an amorphous "really a lot".

I have seen right-wing estimates according to which a homossexual lifestyle lowers one's life expetancy 5 to 25 years. So, yes, I think Americans in general have some problembeing precise

So why would you google that if you are not interested in tomar no cu?

1) I saw such estimates here at Marginal Revolution's comments.
2) Also, I read international news, America is currently divided on the homossexual/bissexual/transgender/ issue.
3) It is not how it is sad in Portuguese. Mr Bolsonaro's translation to English is more faithful to the original Google Translate is not your friend, if you do not know what you aremdoing.

You might want to actually read the paper before writing silly things about it! It's written in plain enough English.

They construct precise estimates for injury savings, and then apply two different ways to put a dollar figure to those.

Reading the paper, I'm not clear on what they count as an "exposure". Is that one game, or a season? If the former, then it seems very relevant how many exposures there are per season for each sport.

Also curious how they took into account "starter vs. non-starter". If you're a basketball player who's only getting 5 minutes a game then your injury risk is pretty low.

Also could vary by position for sports like football. Kickers don't get injured very often because they're on the field comparatively less often, and even when they are they're usually not involved in any contact. For soccer and ice hockey I would guess the goalies get hurt less often.

Hockey goalies? You mean the guys who spend 60 minutes getting whacked with sticks and pucks while large men with blades on their feet crash in to them in less-than-protected positions?

Not a big Hockey fan so maybe this is off base. I'd expect them to get whacked with sticks and rammed into less often than, say, a forward or defender. Goalie only gets whacked when the puck is near the goal; his team mates are constantly getting whacked and rammed into up and down the entire length of the rink.

I don't know who gets more contact on average; but goalies are more likely to have players from both teams crash, topple, etc. in to them while they are in unprotected, often stretched, positions. (Google something like "hockey goalies getting hit/injured" and you'll see what I mean.) Goalies are much more likely to get knocked back and hit their heads on the iron or ice, and the masks don't have as much protection on the backside.

But that's just games. A collegiate goalie might face 800-1,000 pucks in a week, in games and practices. Some of those will invariablely hit his mask with some speed; or find their way past the neck guard, on to the collar bone, or (with seemingly laser-like precision) that tender spot just above the knee between the top of the leg pads and the bottom of the pants. There's also the fact that modern netminding technique is something of a contortionist act that puts a good deal of strain on the hips, groin, and knee ligaments. It's a bit like being a baseball catcher: Even when everything goes right, you're getting hurt a little bit all game long — and those tweaks add up.

So a wise strategy for a very good high school basketball player who nonetheless lacks NBA potential is to be good enough to get a scholarship, but not good enough to get much playing time.

Might be easier to just do work study during the school year and work full-time during the summers. My wife's cousin was a third-string player at a D1 state school; basketball consumed a *shockingly* high amount of his time.

>If you’re a basketball player who’s only getting 5 minutes a game then your injury risk is pretty low.

It's the hours of practice-time, not the minutes of game time. Even for starters.

And what of the Mercatus center's own duo of foley artists? Would "Convos with Tyler" pull in over 400 listens an episode with only "genuine" thoughtful stubble scratching? Unlikely

At least they don't have fencing, like in Germany. That one's dangerous.

The U.S. definitely has collegiate fencing -

Absolutely, football causes brain damage. Proof: perpetually-outraged, millionaires telling people that pay their salaries to go fuck themselves by disrespecting the National Anthem.

Old man yells at clouds. Lol.

CPP yells at old man. lol

By the way, what's the contribution of NFL ownership, or the ownership of teams in other professional leagues, to the game itself? They own uniforms, maybe or maybe not practice facilities, and the contracts of the players. That's about it. Oh, and the franchise itself, the membership in the club called the NFL. They don't play themselves or do anything else except set expectations for their management. They don't own the stadiums in which they play. Most unusual is the fact that they are able, somehow, to limit the choices of employment for their players through the draft process. Imagine if Dell, H-P, Apple and other tech companies united to limit options for college graduates to a draft. Of course, the reality is that the NFL is simply one business and that each team is a division of that business. The system is set up not to determine the best team through play but to maintain a talent equilibrium that keeps fans excited enough to attend games and watch exhibitions on television over the course of a season. The goal is that each team win its home games. Parity scheduling and salary caps attempt to insure this. In other words, the competitive aspect of NFL football is basically fraudulent. What keeps this charade afloat is gambling. Since there are only two teams in each game it's a 50-50 bet, a proposition that no intelligent horse race bettor would accept but the hordes of lottery players find attractive. But, in the end, people need something to think about besides work, if the thinking isn't too robust.

American sports are totalitarian communism - like in the Soviet one, a tiny elite enslaves and explores its underlings. Brazilian sports, as Mr. Neymar can witness, are about community, fatherland and rewarding real talent.

Of interest (to me) has been the recent sale of the MLB/NL Miami Marlins to a group fronted by retired Yankee great Derek Jeter.

I'm interested in how a team with material net operating losses could attract a $1.2 billion price tag. I imagine they expect to earn profits in the near term. But, what discount and capitalization rates would result in $1.2 billion estimated value?

Are the current Marlins management and ownership not "baseball people?" It will be interesting to see whether Jeter et al will turn it around.

This is mostly true, but it's actually about a 52.4 - 47.6 bet (after the point spread). Or you can think of it as paying 5% of the bet as a fee for taking it.

The big appeal of betting, back when I did it, was that it made otherwise boring games interesting, so it's for entertainment.

They don’t own the stadiums in which they play.

Some do. Not sure the percentage.

The concussion controversy was the death knell of football but this controversy with the anthem is incrementally hastening the demise of the sport. I figured we had a good 10-20 years left of football. We may have less.

True. Like mythic lemmings they're running off the cliff. Feckless Goddell and most owners may be presiding over a massive branding catastrophe. I wouldn't know. I'm not watching, or buying. I have a list of sponsors.

Football is a gladiator sport. Everyone knows that.

College football is the minor league of the NFL, and thus makes the latter possible.

The NFL and related revenues (endorsements, fan travel, TV revenues) approach $20 bn / year, many times the cost of injuries. That's why players risk their health for a shot to play for the NFL.

Many players evaluate their sporting years the best of their lives, and certainly feel the competition changed them positively regardless of the risks. There's probably an economic cost to not playing these sports also.

Thanks for sharing. I see the novelty of your writing, I will share it for everyone to read together. I look forward to reading many articles from you.

While this might be the best (only?) study on the subject, I'm skeptical of underlying data. The finding that wrestling has a higher rate of concussions than all sports, including football, in particular, seems unlikely to me. Almost every football player I know has a concussion(s) story. Very few wrestlers I know has been concussed.

I've been involved in wrestling, as a participant or an official, for 25 years, including 4 years as a collegiate wrestler. After viewing thousands of practices and matches, I've seen only a handful of instances where a wrestler received trainer or medical attention for a suspected concussion. (Slamming an opponent to the ground and injuring him results in a disqualification and was very rare. Head injuries from a slam even rarer. And the vast majority of the study's "exposure" measurement is mat time in practice with a teammate. Slamming a teammate is virtually unheard of.)

Perhaps the difference is that football has large teams, mostly filled with players who see little game time, with only a few players (starting RBs, safeties, returners, linebackers, and quarterbacks) driving all the concussion data. Wrestling doesn't have position specialization or large benches of participants who mostly sit out. Still, the study is so at odds with my experience that I fear the data has some major reporting deficiencies. More study needed, as they say.

Where will high school and college contact sports be, particularly football, when people fully grasp that they cause large numbers of permanent, irreversible, brain injury to our students.

What's interesting is that people have already begun to grasp those ideas, despite the fact that they're not actually true. I think it's coming from NYC media types whose concept of "football" is the NFL, where everything you said may very well be true. But that's like hearing the word "automobile" and thinking NASCAR.

Comments for this post are closed