Extreme sports are called that for a reason: aside from peak physical fitness, their practitioners also need bravery – or a dash of insanity and a healthy addiction to adrenaline, according to some. After all, extreme sports can be very dangerous. Jumping off a cliff or riding the most dangerous waves can – and almost inevitably will – lead to an injury, often a serious one.
Seriously, though, there are professional sports practiced today where injuries – sometimes serious ones – are normal. Those sitting on the grandstands may not even realize that the athletes that perform for them in the playfield are often putting their health – and sometimes, their lives – on the line.
Extreme sports are dangerous – there is no doubt in that. Most extreme sports have a relatively low number of practitioners, and a relatively high percentage of casualties each year. Some of them stand out – BASE jumping, especially the version that involves a wingsuit – is perhaps the deadliest one, claiming around two dozen lives in an average year. But motor racing, for example, claims almost the same number of lives each year, all this in spite of the many safety precautions, rules, regulations, and entire teams of engineers working on keeping the drivers safe.
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There are many extremely dangerous professional sports out there. And while playing them rarely puts the athletes into a coffin, some of them may deserve the “extreme” designation.
Ice hockey may seem like a relatively peaceful team sport at first sight. But as soon as the first sight passes, it becomes a full-contact clash on ice. There’s a reason why players wear such thick equipment, complete with a helmet and a testicular guard.
Ice hockey is among the top 3 most painful team sports – it has more injuries than soccer and basketball but less than football. And this without counting the incidents initiated by the “enforcers”, sometimes also called “fighters” or “tough guys”. Guess what their role on the ice is…
MMA, Boxing, and other fighting sports
Well, duh! Fighting sports are about injuring the opponent enough for them to not be able to continue fighting. The most common injuries are concussions and face lacerations – and most of the time, these are not serious enough to be catastrophic.
There have only been a handful of recorded deaths in MMA in the last few decades, and in boxing, a few hundred of them since it became a sport (in the 19th century). As you might expect, the leading cause of death in full-contact sports is a brain injury. But what do you expect when the point of the sport is beating the opponent to a pulp?
Becoming a cheerleader for a high school sports team is a dream for many girls in North America. The sport seems fun at first but it has a dark side: it’s riddled with injury. Falling while practicing it puts around 30,000 people in a hospital each year, with some injuries resulting in permanent paralysis. And sometimes, death. According to the American Medical Association, it is the leading cause of catastrophic injury among female athletes both in high school and college.
Cheerleading is a controversial practice. In the US, where it is in its home, it’s not recognized as an official sport, even though it has a global governing body and a World Championship.
Rugby football is seen by many as the more extreme version of American football – especially because what American football players do with thick protective equipment, rugby players do wearing shorts and a shirt. And not even a helmet.
Rugby football is the team sport with perhaps the highest number of injuries – about a quarter of all players are injured each season. Sometimes, these injuries can be catastrophic: last year, four rugby players have died in France within eight months of playing rugby.
The All Blacks, New Zealand’s (in)famous rugby union team, always start their matches with a “haka”, a traditional Māori ceremonial dance commonly associated with preparations for battle. Considering the number of injuries, it is appropriate.
Hunting is one of the most bizarre sports in the world, and it’s going against nature – no other animal kills other animals for sport, after all. Still, in our modern world, thousands of people leave the comfort of their homes, put on camo, and head into the wilderness armed to the teeth to dominate mother Nature herself. Unfortunately, many of them don’t know what they are doing.
Hunting deserves to be designated an “extreme sport” because of its death toll: hunting accidents kill around 75 people in a year in the US and Canada, with further 1,000 people being shot accidentally. And these are only the injuries caused by other hunters or the victims themselves.