Cheerleading and football top the list of most dangerous sports.
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Football and cheerleading both pose unique dangers to the participants, but which sport is more dangerous has been often debated within athletics. In terms of catastrophic injuries, cheerleading is hands down the most dangerous sport for women, while football is the most dangerous sport for men. Depending on the study you read or the physicians surveyed, either sport can top the list.
Football leads the pack with injuries, according to Candace Hopkins of Your News Now, reporting 2011 findings from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries. Despite protective gear such as pads and helmets, the collision factor associated with football puts athletes at significantly higher risk for both non-life threatening and catastrophic injuries. Unlike with sports such as golf, swimming or tennis, physical contact is an inherent part of football. Often, players collide or are tackled by multiple players at the same time, which further increases injury rates.
Although cheerleading is not a sanctioned sport by the NCAA or an Olympic sport, it still carries risks. Cheerleading incorporates human pyramid building, gymnastics and participants flying through the air. While the National Center for Catastrophic Sports ranks cheerleading as second in injuries behind football, several emergency room physicians disagree. Dr. Stephen Storer, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, says cheerleaders are more prone to injuries than football players. This is because football players have protective equipment, while cheerleaders do not. A Fox Sports Network television show focusing on the scientific aspects of sports and athletics reported that cheerleaders falling from a flying stunt or pyramid collide with more force than a football player being tackled.
Studies from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports, along with The University of North Carolina and Emerson Hospital in Massachusetts, say the percentages of injuries related to football are in the 90th percentile, while catastrophic injuries attributed to cheerleading are over 65 percent. Sports Science's Dr. Cynthia Bir determined that cheerleading generates greater force on injuries than football. So to say which sport is more dangerous might depend on whether you are looking at percentages and numbers (football) or the actual amount of damage that can occur (cheerleading).
Assessing Danger Levels
Both cheerleading and football carry extreme risks. In each sport, there are positions most vulnerable to the greatest injury. In football, players being tackled are at greatest risk. But in cheerleading, cheerleaders who fly into the air or are at the top of pyramids are in the most danger. Of course, other positions are susceptible to injury as well.