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August 21, 2012

Baseball More Dangerous Than Football?

Last week the Editorial Staff weighed in on the War on Football. This week, a new study claims that baseball is actually the more dangerous sport:

Last Thursday, Grantland’s Bill Barnwell published an informal study of mortality rates among professional football and baseball players. The results were surprising: Among the 3,088 ex-football players who played for parts of at least five seasons between 1959 and 1988, 12.8 percent had died; in a sample of 1,494 baseball players active during the same era, the death rate was 15.9 percent.

The study was meant to serve as a clarification or maybe a rebuke of a similar study published last spring. That one, conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (and then peer-reviewed), compared mortality among retired football players and nonathletes matched for age and race and found that the ex-athletes were dying about half as often as one might expect. In other words, the health risks associated with playing football were being more than outweighed by the benefits of being a pro athlete—excellent training and nutrition, a good salary, top-quality medical care, and so on.

We know that other sports confer survival benefits to their athletes, too—a study of more than 5,000 Italian soccer players who were active at some point between 1975 and 2003 found a reduced mortality of almost one-third. But the bigger issue for Barnwell and just about everyone else who saw those NIOSH data was how they might relate to football’s concussion panic. What do the mortality numbers mean, asks Barnwell, for "the group of retired [NFL] players that had spent the past two years launching lawsuits against their former employer"—i.e., the ones who have alleged a league-wide conspiracy to conceal the long-term effects of brain damage?

If the Grantland study had shown that, comparing "apples to apples," football players die younger than baseball players, we would all have assumed that head injuries were a major reason why. But Barnwell's numbers went in the opposite direction and left us with a perplexing question: Why might baseball, the gentleman's game, be more deadly than football over the long term?

Aye, chihuahua muchachos. This is why we plan to stay with our longstanding regimen of Competitive Dacquiri-scarfing (lime, blended, not stirred) and lobbing digital snark at professional politicians.

Carpal tunnel syndrome may take us down eventually, but what a way to go...

Posted by Cassandra at August 21, 2012 05:40 PM

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Well, clearly, football players may live longer than baseball players, but they'll spend their extra years as drooling vegetables.

Oh, wait; that's a thread just below....

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 21, 2012 07:07 PM


I don't really have a dog in this fight. As I said on the football thread, I lack the male appreciation for the rougher aspect of team contact sports.

But I look at all this risk mitigation and am not convinced it makes us safer as a society. Military training is incredibly risky - people are injured and die all the time. I've seen careers ended - fine officers who paid the price for some training related mishap that really was beyond their control.

As long as no one's being compelled to play pro sports, though, I have to question the idea that risk - any risk - means something is immoral/not worth it for others. That seems (as Don Brouhaha said so well) like a decision we can and should make for ourselves.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 21, 2012 07:40 PM

As someone who has recently been teaching a young boy to bat, let me just say that baseball is really dangerous.

But it would be child abuse to keep most boys from baseball. I don't know about football -- I think you should learn the rules, and understand the strategy and tactical aspects of the game, but not everybody is physically cut out for the rigors of the sport. Almost any healthy boy can enjoy baseball, though, even if it's not on a team, even if it's just for the pleasure of hitting the ball and watching it sail through the air.

Posted by: Grim at August 21, 2012 10:50 PM

Yes, baseball *is* dangerous. And you don't even need to be playing it to be exposed to the danger. There is a reason I prefer to either sit behind the screen or on the outfield berm :-P I know of someone who was first base coaching a minor league game, got hit in the head just behind his left and and was pretty much killed instantly. My sisters had been acquainted with Mike Coolbaugh when he was a player at Round Rock. He left behind two little boys and a pregnant wife. It amazes me how many people will go to a game, sit down the baselines and be completely oblivious to what is happening on the field...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 21, 2012 11:30 PM

Because their father was gone so much, I was generally the one who taught our boys how to throw a football or hit a baseball (actually a tennis ball, as we didn't have T-ball and I was terrified of baseballs).

Now that I think of it, that may explain why neither of our boys was all that into football or baseball :p

Of course I practiced soccer skills with them too, and they did play soccer. One of the worst "injuries" (I'm almost supernaturally lucky, when I'm not out for walks around our neighborhood, at least) I ever had was after a bad fall when we were out playing soccer. I didn't break or even sprain anything, but I scraped most of the skin off one ankle and it took forever to heal. But I don't even have a scar!

Posted by: Cassandra at August 22, 2012 06:42 AM

She's a witch! Burn her!

Posted by: MikeD at August 22, 2012 08:18 AM

As long as my Nats keep beating the Braves, I'm good :D

/running away!

Posted by: Cassandra at August 22, 2012 02:07 PM

She hates the Braves! Pardon her!

Posted by: MikeD at August 23, 2012 08:28 AM