Most people do not expect to go to a baseball game or a NASCAR race and leave in an ambulance, but it happens, and a group of UAB researchers says sports officials need to keep better track of it. In a paper published recently in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Fitness, they describe spectator injuries at sporting events and call for a nationwide database.
To gather their data, researchers combed the internet looking for documented incidents around the world dating back to 2000 and found 181 spectator injuries. Sixty-two of those were fatal. Some of the accidents were unrelated to the sporting event itself. Most happened during car or motorcycle racing, like when vehicles crash through a barrier into the crowd. Dr. Amit Momaya, an orthopedic surgeon at UAB and the study’s principal investigator, says their findings likely represent the tip of the iceberg.
“I think the number that we found in our study is well, well below what actually happens,” Momaya says, “because a lot of these (incidents) are not really reported or not really publicized. It’s usually the ones that are more gruesome, the ones that are caught on camera. Those are the ones that get social media attention.”
For example, researchers found six reported cases of people injured from a foul ball at a baseball game. Momaya says that seems low. Without accurate data, it is hard to know whether efforts to protect spectators, like extending the netting behind home plate, are effective. In their paper, UAB researchers advocate for a registry to track spectator injuries. They also call for taller and sturdier barriers to protect crowds.