Sometimes it seems as if professional athletes have it all: Money, fame, and the ability to build a career doing what they love. But there’s a downside, especially when it comes to contact sports like football. Every day, athletes run the risk of injury, and some are career-ending.
How risky are contact sports?
Contact sports, especially football, have been controversial for years. Despite the fact that millions of people participate in them, we don’t know exactly how risky they are. But it’s safe to say the risks are quite substantial.
Ligament sprains are the most common football injury reported, followed by concussions. And while those are certainly serious, they’re not often severe enough to end an athlete’s career. The following five injuries, however, can take players off the field for good.
1. Damaged vertebrae
A damaged vertebrae is one of the most terrifying risks of professional sports. And in 1994, that’s what ended the career of Sterling Sharp, who played for the Green Bay Packers. After sustaining the injury during a game against the Atlanta Falcons, his doctor told him it was best if he stopped playing as soon as possible.
2. Herniated disks
Herniated disks are another common risk of contact sports, and sometimes they’re quite severe. In 2007, Seattle Seahawks fullback Mack Strong herniated a disk during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His doctors advised him to retire since the herniated disk could have led to paralysis if it was hit improperly.
3. Knee injuries
Knee injuries happen frequently, and they have ended numerous careers. Alvin Williams, a former guard for the Toronto Raptors, spent most of his career on the injury list thanks to a knee injury he sustained in his third season. He never fully recovered. Former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper sustained a major knee injury during a game against the Panthers in 2005, and although he tried to return to football, he was never able to play as well.
4. Neck injuries
Neck injuries are no joke — they can lead to permanent paralysis. Former Cleveland Browns linebacker Chris Spielman sustained not one but two of them during his career, forcing him into early retirement. Former Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe also sustained a career-ending neck injury in 1994.
5. Multiple concussions
A single concussion typically doesn’t end a career in sports, but multiple concussions certainly have. Hockey players like Keith Primeau of the Philadelhpia Flyers and Nick Kypreos of the New York Rangers both had to leave the NHL because of problems stemming from several concussions.
Long-term effects of playing sports
Even if athletes are lucky enough to make it through a career unscathed, they could still suffer from the effects of a traumatic brain injury down the road. A recent study showed that 87% of the donated brains of deceased football players showed signs of CTE, a degenerative brain disorder associated with repetitive head trauma.