When you speak about concussions in athletics, it is hard not to speak about football. It has received the most attention by far for its handling of concussions thanks to the highly-publicized lawsuits against the NFL and the shocking suicides that have been linked back to concussions which occurred while playing football.
However, the notion that most sports-related brain injuries occur on the football field isn’t exactly true. While some studies have placed football at the lead for concussions, other studies have found that non-contact based sports such as equestrian sports actually contribute to the highest number of athletics-related TBI.
Now, the Knight Commission forum on Intercollegiate Athletics suggests another sport may be the riskiest for brain injuries.
When former United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked panelists at to forum to rank their level of concern for concussions in specific sports, the panel came to a unanimous agreement; cheerleading is the most dangerous.
“Over the last four years, we’ve had more concussions in cheerleading than we have in football and soccer,” Georgia sports medicine director Ron Courson said.
Princeton director of athletic medicine Margot Putukian agreed, also stating that “wrestling is very high.”
This sentiment was echoed later in the discussion, when Myron Rolle, a Knight Commission member who played safety at Florida State before briefly playing for the Tennessee Titans, asked how athletes can reconcile the opportunity to get an education through athletic scholarships with the risk for brain injury.
“There’s more that we don’t know about these effects compared to what we’re learning and the risk of participating in sport is the way you look at it,” Putukian said. “There’s a much higher risk of brain injury on a bicycle, on a motorcycle, on a skateboard. Horse jockeys have 50 times the incidents of brain injury than NFL players.”
It may seem that the panel was downplaying the risk for traumatic brain injury in football, but they admit it can be dangerous. However, they pointed to increased efforts to institute new regulations and minimize contact drills in practice as evidence that football is reigning in their “concussion-crisis.”
“Drills that we did 20 years ago, 30 years ago, we need to change,” Courson said. “From a rules standpoint, we can make it safer. From a practice standpoint, we can control it.”