Is playing in the NFL more hazardous compared to other sports? This question often arises, and my dissertation literature review provides some insights into the comparative injury rates across different sports, focusing solely on game-related injuries for clarity and consistency.

Concept of Athlete-Exposures

To understand the injury rates across various sports, we employ the concept of “athlete-exposure” (AE), which is defined as one athlete participating in one game. For example, an NFL game with all active players participating counts for 92 athlete exposures (46 per team).

Injury Rates Across Sports

The NFL stands out with the highest game injury rate among North America’s “Big 4” sports, with 75.4 injuries per 1,000 AEs. This means roughly seven injuries could be expected in a typical NFL game. In comparison, the NFL’s injury rate is about four to five times higher than that of the NBA, MLB, and NHL.

Internationally, when considering sports like soccer and Australian rules football, the NFL’s injury rate remains notably higher, approximately four times greater than soccer. Rugby, however, shows comparable or even higher rates of in-game injuries, aligning closely with or surpassing NFL figures.

It’s important to note that while the NFL does register a higher game injury rate, athletes in sports like the NBA, NHL, and MLB play many more games per season, which could alter the cumulative risk of injury per season across sports. This analysis only considers injuries per game, which may cast the NFL in a particularly harsh light without considering the total seasonal exposure.

Injury Data Sources

The injury data for this analysis comes from reliable league injury surveillance systems to ensure accuracy. For instance:

  • NFL
    Data from a Harvard Law School report using NFL Injury Surveillance System data indicates that there were 3,553 injuries during regular season games in 2014-15.
  • MLB
    Utilizes MLB’s Health Injury and Tracking System (HITS) data.
  • NBA and NHL
    Injuries per 1,000 AEs were calculated based on various historical and modern sources, with the NHL showing rates close to those of NBA and MLB when adjusted for actual playtime per game.
  • Soccer and Australian Rules Football
    Injuries per 1,000 AEs are calculated based on comprehensive studies like those from the UEFA.

Concluding Thoughts

These findings contribute to understanding the physical demands and risks associated with professional sports, particularly in contexts where injury prevention strategies are critical.

The insights gathered here are foundational but should be viewed as part of a broader discussion that includes other measures of risk and exposure in professional athletics.