Professional Sports Injuries: Should OSHA Step In?

Every worker has the right to a safe workplace under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. But, what does this mean for professional athletes?

By design, OSHA protects individuals in employer-employee relationships. The majority of professional athletes are considered employees of their leagues (MBA, NFL, NBA, etc.).  Therefore, they are subject to OSHA’s jurisdiction. So why does OSHA fail to protect athletes from workplace injuries?

It’s certainly not because these workers aren’t at risk of injury.  Here are some staggering statistics from the National Football League (NFL).  Recent studies show the rate of injuries among professional football players overall continues to rise… up 17 percent from 2013 to 2014.  265 NFL players placed on injured reserve during the 2014 regular season, which means during the NFL’s regular season, more than one player per game suffers a season-ending injury.

Think about it… how would you feel if you worked in an job with a 100% chance of injury every single day?  Here are some more scary statistics for professional athletes:

  • A study commissioned by the NFL Players Association found that two-thirds of the league’s retirees suffered from a permanent sports-related injury.
  • An investigative report conducted last year by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review asserts an NFL injury rate of 68%.

Concussions in the NFL seem to be getting a lot of press these days, but there are other serious injuries at play as well, such as:

  • career-ending leg injuries
  • crushed hands
  • fractures
  • breaks
  • tears

The advocates for more OSHA regulation in professional sports argue it would lead to safer sports, longer careers for active athletes, and longer lives for retired athletes.  However, some others believe more regulations could impact the game too much, change the rules, and negatively impact the quality of play from the athletes.

In many countries, having a safe workplace is not guaranteed. But here in the United States, we have the right to feel safe at work. We are protected from hazards in our work environments. And we are not deliberately put in harm’s way—at least not without serious repercussions.

I agree that sports are certainly on a different playing field than most hazardous work environments. However, I also believe professional athletes should be given the chance to work in a safe environment.   Whether it’s designing gloves that can better protect hands from crushing blows, creating bats that don’t splinter when struck, or adjusting game rules to help eliminate head-to-head contact, OSHA certainly is responsible for protecting these employees—just as they protect everyone else. Some supporters of increased regulation want Congress to create a “Sports Safety and Health Administration (SSHA).  What do you think about this possibility?  Do you have any other ideas?  Comment in our forum!