Football: Heading for trouble?

1. Knockin' heads

2. A player is down!

3. Caution about concussion

4. The macho factor

5. Odd sports injuries

Cheerleading: Could this be dangerous? Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart, copyright University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Cheerleader held high in the air. Don't play football?
There are plenty of other ways to injure yourself in this sporting life:

Cheerless leading: As women take a greater role in amateur athletics, you'd be surprised -- we were -- that cheerleaders account for half of the injuries to female high-school and college athletes. "Cheerleading has changed dramatically over the years," says sport-med expert Frederick Mueller. "It's gotten away from helping the crowd cheer, using pompoms. Now they're doing stunts, tumbling, getting thrown 20 or 25 feet in the air, twisting and turning." Cheerleading coaches, he says, aren't necessarily trained to teach a discipline that now resembles gymnastics.

Two wicked wheels: Bicycling is by far the biggest killer of recreational athletes in the United States, with roughly 600 deaths per year. Since head injuries cause most of the deaths, helmets might help, but critics observe that new helmet laws have hardly reduced the death rate. Some experts worry that if helmets make riders feel safer, cyclists may take more chances. We don't have time to solve this long dispute, but do wonder whether helmets can carry the entire burden of safety. Wouldn't it be smart to figure where and why bike accidents occur, and then improve roads, and the behavior of drivers and bikers alike? In meantime, we Why-Bikers swear by our helmets, thank you very kindly.

Lean cyclist stares intently ahead.When bike racer Andrei Kivilev crashed in France last spring, his team doctor said a helmet would probably have saved his life. In a switcheroo, the International Cycling Union has started requiring helmets in pro racing. (Duh!) Photo: Copyright Phil O'Connor

Dangerous dancing: During an eight-month study, Ronald Smith, a University of Washington psychology professor, found that 61 percent of ballet dancers were injured, comparable to the rates in football and wrestling. "We think ballet dancers are as vulnerable as athletes because ballet is a very pressure-packed activity with a tremendous amount of competition," Smith wrote. "Ballet is physically grueling, and the fact that other dancers are competing with them adds to the physical stress. They often perform hurt and are afraid someone will take their place." (Remind you of football?)

Hockey = havoc? Although the game is played on ice, not grass, grievous spine and brain injuries can occur in hockey as in football. Michael Stuart, chief medical officer at USA Hockey, a coordinating body, says players are taught not to collide against the side boards with their heads, or at least to lift their heads before impact. "USA Hockey has been very diligent to make every attempt to prevent, educate, for 'heads-up' hockey," he stresses. A second rule change, also aimed at reducing head injury, bans "checking from behind" (slamming into an opponent who's facing the boards) in some leagues.

Here's a good rule: Check our sport-injury bibliography.


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