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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. 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.

  • 11 boys have died playing middle & high school football in 2017. Others are in a comma or will die off the field from football related injuries. The coaches , parents & school administrators responsible for children playing tackle football are child abusers !

  • People have no idea the long term ramifications of football injuries and the effect they have on our families.

    I began playing Pop Warner at age 11, was knocked unconscious and hospitalized playing at age 13, which ultimately lead to more concussions and developing hydrocephalus in 1981 during my second NFL season. (Survived 3 emergency VP shunt brain surgeries during and immediately after the 81 season, and now have survived 9 emergency VP shunt brain surgeries since.

    Fractured my C6 and C7 vertebrae at age 15 my sophomore season in high school, which weren’t diagnosed till 4 yrs after my NFL career ended.

    Dislocated a shoulder my sophomore yr in college, never missed a play, and 37 yrs later diagnosed with 3 torn tendons, a torn rotator cuff, 3/4” bone chip and a bone spur and referred to have a shoulder replacement.

    I had my first knee surgery my 2nd yr with the 49ers in 81 when they removed all my cartilage, and two more in 84 with a Goretex ACL transplant trying to repair the ACL I originally tore in 81.

    I’ve had gran mal seizures since my first brain surgery in 81, suffer from frontal lobe dementia with major short term memory problems and lost my Environmental Consultanting business in 2011 due to my loss of memory, our home in 2012 and my 21 yr marriage in 2016.

    See NPR George Visger
    Or ESPN George Visger

  • Great article, and it is good to see the increasing focus on sports injuries, including brain injuries that lead to neurological illnesses, from your and others’ research at Precision Medicine and Personalized Medicine conferences and events this fall.

    Just as we widen the lens to look at additional types of injuries, we need to widen the lens to look at additional factors that influence recovery and resilience vs. chronic inflammation and progressive generation.

    Which athletes are getting the latest in immediate medical and therapeutic interventions, from ice baths for bruising to injections for neck injuries and next-generation laser, TENS and frequency-specific microcurrent treatments for soft tissue injuries? How helpful is a Tom Brady diet, or at least healthier whole foods than the Standard American Diet? How common is immune reactivity to various kinds of metals, plastics and other device materials, and does it matter if players already have metal implants from past injuries, or a mouthful from old fashioned, inexpensive dentistry?

    I suggest when medical researchers perform animal studies and order mice from the Jackson Labs, they custom order them not just by specific gene types bred to be more susceptible to various kinds of diseases, but ask to order them subjected to similar diets, dentistry, and bone and joint implants – and then study the impact of various traumas and treatments – on disease progression, recovery, and outcomes.

    Here is my recent op-ed in MetroWest Daily News on this issue from a Precision Health perspective. It suggests for parents, it is time to raise the flag for youth flag football.

    Other sports injuries also need greater awareness, research attention and early intervention. Boxing and rodeo are also high impact, and soccer has head trauma. The number of young women I have met with gymnastics-related injuries is sobering. Rock climbers tend to wreck their feet.

    Artificial turf vs. grass is an interesting question. While l understand the latest studies are not definitive regarding lymphomas, it may well a greater risk for some players – based on their genetic metabolic tolerance to inhaled, ingested and prolonged skin contact with petroleum-based products – as well as their footwork.

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