Whether on TV or in person, watching sports is something everyone enjoys. In the USA, NFL games alone account for 34 of the 35 most-watched programs on TV. That’s a lot of games for a sport that is considered the most dangerous of all time. 2013 recorded football players suffering 274, 000 head injuries, over 140,000 shoulder injuries and more than 80,000 lower leg injuries. Needless to say, all these were pretty gruesome to watch.
Let’s face it, some sports are just plain dangerous.
Take ice hockey, where certain players are ‘designated’ enforcers. Their job is to basically cause a ruckus, beat other enforcers senseless, and provide in-game entertainment. They are free to use fists, sheer brawn and any other dirty tricks. Any true hockey fan will tell you their fights are some of the reasons they watch the game.
In sports like boxing, where aggression is the norm, injury and death are frequent occurrences. Remember when Mike Tyson ripped off Evander Holyfield’s ear? That 1997 incident wasn’t the first ear ‘ripping’ in sports history. In 1994, during a WCW match, pro wrestler Mick Foley executed a botched hangman move which cost him a large chunk of his right ear.
Other self-inflicted injuries include Paulo Diogo’s self-amputation of his ring finger. To celebrate scoring a goal in a 2004 Servette FC match, Diogo hopped on a wire fence to wave to fans. Jumping off to get back to the match, his wedding ring got caught in the links of the fence. He landed on the ground, but the ring AND finger were left at the top of the fence. Referees were quick to give him a yellow card for excessive celebration!
In other unfortunate cases, spectators are accidentally involved, such as the June 5th incident at Fenway Park, where a Red Sox fan was hit by a shard from a broken bat.
Here are some appalling injuries that surprisingly didn’t lead to the death of the player.
10. Petr Čech – Soccer
Playing in goal is tough. You’re trying to stop balls streaking at you at up to 90mph while trying to avoid getting stomped by the boots of strikers. It can get unnerving, even at the best of times.
In a 2006 game against Reading FC, only 30 seconds into the game, Reading’s Stephen Hunt kneed Peter Čech in the head. This collision resulted in a depressed skull fracture, concussion and required emergency brain surgery to remove a blood clot.
Doctors say the accident could have cost his life but after intense rehab, he was back in action three months later. Since then, he’s had to wear a specially developed protective helmet to protect the parts of his skull that were permanently depressed.
9. Richard Zedník – Ice Hockey
Most people have seen the accident where Clint Malarchuk had his carotid artery slit by an ice hockey skate blade. This freak accident is more common than you’d think. One incident involved Richard Zedník, a former team mate of Malarchuk.
In a 2008 game against the Buffalo Sabres, Zedník in his position as the Florida Panthers right winger, had his carotid artery slit by his own team mate. Olli Jokinen tripped and lost his balance just in front of Zedník. As Jokinen fell, he raised his skate and Zedník happened to be behind him. Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Losing five pints of blood between the accident scene and getting help outside the rink, doctors told Zedník he was lucky to be alive. He missed the rest of the 2008 season due to this injury.
8. Patrick Battiston – Soccer
This injury is a reminder on why aerial body checks are frowned on in many sports. When contesting for a ball in flight, if violently checked, the challenged player always lands badly. This can prove fatal if they land on their head or neck.
In a World Cup semi-final match against Seville in 1982, German goalie Harald Schumacher body-checked Patrick Battison in the air, smashing him in the face with his hip. Battison landed so awkwardly that he fell to the ground unconscious with broken vertebra, a damaged jaw and four teeth missing. He slipped into a coma, but doctors were able to revive him.
He was back on his feet playing within four months, albeit with his jaw wired shut.
7. Salim Sdiri – Long Jumper
On Friday 13, 2007, during the IAAF Golden League meet, Finnish javelin thrower Tero Pitkämäki threw a javelin, trying to break his personal record. Downwind of the javelin throwers was a warm-up area for long jumpers, where Salim Sdiri was preparing for his event.
In a freak accident, as the javelin left Pitkämäki’s hand, it slipped slightly to the left causing it to totally change direction. Sailing over 80m, it ended its flight in Sdiri’s back. The javelin had pierced his side, traveling 10 cm into his body as it tore a hole in his liver and punctured his right kidney.
After months of rehab, Sdiri made it back on the track, breaking the record for the longest indoor jump in 2012.
6. Rudy Tomjanovich – Basketball
Basketball is all about jumps and hook shots, right? Wrong. Like any sport, it can quickly get heated, resulting in fights and injury.
Rudy Tomjanovich was trying to break up an on-court fight in 1977, when he ran headlong into a punch thrown by Kermit Washington. He was taken to the hospital due to suffering from a brain concussion, skull fracture, broken jaw and nose, with spinal cavity fluid leaking into his brain.
He made a full recovery a year after, but injuries from the blow contributed to his retiring six years later. The fight and subsequent fallout helped enforce a crackdown on violence by NBA Commissioner, Larry O’Brien.
5. Wayne Shelford – Rugby
Rugby is a brutal sport. Minimal equipment, full contact, crazy plays like rucking, mauling, charging down a kick, and of course the madness of a scrum: all this seems designed to kill players.
The infamous ‘Battle of Nantes’ in 1986 between the All Blacks and France is remembered for one particular ruck. Wayne Shelford found himself at the bottom of an aggressive ruck, with a spiked French boot digging into his groin. The tussle ended with Shelford missing four teeth and his scrotum ripped open with a testicle hanging free. After having the wound stitched right there on field, he carried on playing!
Warrington Wolves prop, Paul Wood, had a similar injury in 2012. He had to have the testicle removed after suffering a crushing knee injury to the groin.
4. Dave Dravecky – Baseball
Dave Dravecky, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, had just won a bout with cancer in 1989. For a pitcher, the battle was a costly one as he had to have half of the deltoid muscle from his pitching arm removed! With the worst behind him, he returned to the game he loved. Within a week of his return, while throwing a pitch, Dravecky’s arm snapped in HALF between his shoulder and elbow.
Later that year, while helping his team celebrate winning the National League, he fell and broke the same arm again. Three weeks later, doctors found that the cancer had returned. Dravecky retired from baseball in 1989. Two years later, even after multiple surgeries and treatment, Dravecky had to have his left arm and shoulder amputated.
3. Juan José Padilla – Bull fighting
Like the cowboys of the old West, what’s more badass than a bullfighter? Regardless of your stance on the sport, you have to admire the skill of the toreros. It takes guts and skill to tango with a raging bull. But even the best can get severely injured.
A highly decorated Spanish bullfighter, Juan José Padilla was respected around the world. In 2011, at Zaragoza’s Fiestas Del Pilar event, he suffered a horrific injury. During one turn, he slipped and the bull immediately attacked him. The bull’s horn entered under Padilla’s left ear, cracking the skull, ripping through the auditory nerve and then his jaw. It carried on, smashing through both sets of molars and his cheekbone before coming to a stop, sticking out of his left eye socket.
Amazingly, he managed to stand up and walk to the stands where he was rushed to the hospital for a five-hour surgical procedure. Padilla was back in the bullring five months later, wearing an eye patch, and with the nickname ‘The Pirate’.
2. Travis Pastrana – Motocross
Where do we start with motocross? High speed jumps, perfect landings, doing tricks; riders risk severe injuries every time they ride. Travis Pastrana has carved a name for himself in this high-octane sport.
In 1998, a 14 year old Pastrana attempted a 120 foot jump on his motorbike. He fell short, and landed with his spine separating from his pelvis. After six blood transfusions, two weeks in a coma and another three in a wheelchair, he was back in the seat riding. Doctors told Pastrana that only three people in the USA had lived after that injury.
With a catalog of injuries that includes the dislocated spine, torn ACL, PCL & MCL, broken tibia and fibia and multiple surgeries on his left wrist, back, elbows & knees, Pastrana is the poster boy for dedication to sport.
1. Anthony Van Loo – Soccer
Forget broken bones, separated torsos, gouged eyes, broken shins. How about an actual death? That’s right.
Anthony Van Loo, a soccer player, has a life-threatening heart problem but refuses to stop playing soccer. The sport is notorious for triggering cardiac arrests on the pitch; just ask Fabrice Muamba and Carl-Erik Torp. Instead of giving up on his dream, Van Loo chose to have himself fitted with a defibrillator.
On one occasion in 2009, his heart condition played up and he collapsed while playing. He was clinically dead on the pitch for five seconds, before the device kicked in to ‘jump start’ his heart again.
Amazingly, he is still playing the game he loves. We salute the dedication of these athletes who are willing to come back to playing even after being hit so hard.