Most football reporting spotlights the scoreboard: who threw the touchdown passes, who rushed for how many yards, which team ultimately carried the day. But if you instead read sports stories with a focus on the injuries that players suffer, football news begins to look less like a tally of points scored and more like an emergency department sign-in log.
If and when you think about football injuries, you probably think about concussions. Brain trauma is an important part of the story of the risks of the sport. But so are torn ligaments, ruptured spleens, dislocated joints, and broken vertebrae. These injuries disable, lead to long-term chronic conditions, and cost tons of money to treat.
How bad is the toll of injuries? For one week, Oct. 31 to Nov. 6, we scoured online news about football across the United States. From news reports that we found, we made our Football Injury Highlight Reel. And even though it is just a very partial snapshot, the results aren’t pretty. Here are just a few of the injuries that high school players sustained that week:
In Indiana, Columbus North high school junior quarterback Trenton Kelly suffered a ruptured spleen. After a two-hour surgery to stop bleeding from his arteries, he ended up having his spleen removed. “He wasn’t real sure exactly which (hit caused the injury),” his father Dennis Kelley told a local reporter. “He got hit multiple times there.”
North Scott (Iowa) captain Drake Golinghorst “suffered a serious leg injury on a kickoff return and was taken off by ambulance,” according to the Quad-City Times.
A match between Mississippi’s Jackson Academy and Oak Forest resulted in several injuries. As Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger reported, Jackson Academy linebacker Luke Pitts “went out with a serious-looking knee injury.” Although his coach did not want to speculate on the severity, he “seemed prepared for the worst.” Meanwhile, Pitts’s teammate Walker Benner left the game with a hip injury.
In Louisiana, Haughton’s Cameron Townsend, a senior quarterback, “took an apparent knee to the head on a tackle and was motionless on the ground,” the Bossier Press-Tribune reported. He was taken to a hospital, where it was determined that he had sprained several vertebrae (C3 and C4) and had a concussion.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Sierra Canyon receiver-defensive back Corey Jones suffered a hip injury after making a 3-yard reception. “He was helped off the field and never returned.” His teammate Trevor Howarth, a junior linebacker, also suffered a hip injury and left the game.
In another California matchup, St. Joseph defensive back and receiver Mason Biely went down on a defensive play and remained there for about 15 minutes before being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. “Reports during the game stated Biely suffered a head injury and experienced seizures while on the field,” noted the Lompoc Record.
Few news outlets track injuries among the youngest elementary and middle school players, unless the injuries are extremely severe. On Nov. 4, in Oakland, Calif., a 12-year-old boy was airlifted to the hospital after suffering a possible spine injury in a tackle football league game.
The NFL, of course, gets the most attention. How did it go there the same week? Not good. Here’s a handful of the more serious injuries reported for week 9:
- San Francisco safety Jacquiski Tartt broke his forearm and ended his season tackling 270-pound Arizona tight end Troy Niklas.
- Washington’s Arthur Jones dislocated his shoulder.
- Tampa Bay defensive end William Gholston was carted off the field with a neck injury.
- Green Bay right tackle Bryan Bulaga ripped his ACL and will miss the rest of the season.
- Carolina safety Mike Adams sustained a “shoulder stinger,” which results when the nerves in the neck and shoulder are stretched or compressed after an impact.
This Highlight Reel represents just a tiny snippet of football injuries on fields across the country. Pro-Football-Reference.com lists more than 450 players on its 2017 Current NFL Injuries list as we write this. No comparable lists exist for high school and youth league players, but given that more than 1 million boys (and a few girls) play high school football, countless children and their families are no doubt dealing with the aftermath of serious injuries that don’t make the sports headlines. There’s no questions that concussions matter. But being unable to walk, turn your head, lift heavy objects, or suffer a lifetime of chronic pain are also high prices to pay for playing the game.
Kathleen Bachynski is a postdoctoral fellow at the Division of Medical Humanities at NYU Langone Health. Lisa Kearns is a senior research associate in the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Health. Arthur Caplan is professor of bioethics and director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Health.