Neil Mitchell: “The Necessity of Risk Management in Contact Sports” 

Contact Sports - Risk Management

Horror stories are prevalent. 

Athletes in peak physical shape collapsing without warning. Hidden cardiac issues or tackles done with the head positioned a millimeter too far one way and it is lights out. The human body often proves amazing and resilient, but when things go amiss – they can go tragically wrong. 

Athletics continue to take on a heightened foothold in society and prove a microcosm of modern life: struggle and triumph, survive and overcome, vanquish or fall. With that comes the full span of human emotion: determination, celebration and despair. 

“Sports can prove our resolve; show us that we are capable of accomplishing far more than we ever thought possible. They can build a sort of team mentality that can help people for the rest of their lives. Yet, there is risk involved,” said insurtech entrepreneur Neil Mitchell, co-founder of, early stage and Series A investor in Player’s Health.

Sports and society are becoming more and more intricately connected. After all, with all the media coverage and the team loyalty, people are primed to have emotional reactions to the games they deeply experience. As a result, “Sports Fan Depression” has become a real thing. 

Yet the interweaving between the populace and popular athletes goes deeper. Athletics and athletes are often romanticized, including a longstanding comparison between football players and Roman gladiators, although mostly discounted by Roman historians, that has taken hold over decades. 

“Since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, American football has been seen not just as entertainment but also as a character-building exercise, a man-molding sport that would prevent the nation from producing ‘mollycoddles instead of vigorous men,’” according to Vice reporting.  

“While there is no doubt that athletic pursuits can build character, there are distinct differences in the risks associated with various sports, said Mitchell. “What athletes, their families and broader society often do not consider is the high risk and cost of athletic injuries. When an athlete is injured a ripple effect is created that can impact their entire lives, becoming a high cost to them and a high cost to society.” 

It is a burgeoning area of scientific study and one that has gained traction and a kind of reckoning over the years. 

A North Carolina High School Athletic Injury Study noted in 2007 “the majority of sports injury literature in the USA has not addressed the costs associated with sports injuries in a comprehensive manner. Instead, the sports injury literature has generally described injury severity using different definitions… and length of recovery time.” 

Under that criteria, most high school sports injuries were deemed rather minor and non-permanent, which discounted the treatment and rehabilitation often required – and the costs associated. 

That study, which involved athletes participating in a dozen sports including football, girls’ and boy’s soccer, girls’ and boys’ track, girls’ and boy’s basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, volleyball, and cheerleading noted that “despite the health benefits of sports participation, injury is a detrimental consequence and an important public health problem.” 

​​Yale University recently looked into the issue, noting that contact sports injuries from football, wrestling, basketball and soccer have the potential to exceed $20 billion a year compared to non-contact sports like baseball, tennis and track and field.

“High school sports accounted for the largest contribution to both cost and injury rate, which the authors point out, is because opportunities to play are significantly higher at the lower level. The paper estimates high school contact sports are responsible for up to $19.2 billion yearly and 600,000 more annual injuries,” according to Men’s Journal reporting

The costs are high to the individuals who are injured and may have to live with those injuries their entire lives,” noted Mitchell. 

“The emotional toll can be high on families if the injuries are severe and there is the greater cost to society. Parents need to consider an analysis of risk before getting their children involved with competitive contact sports that expose the athlete to repeated head hits. How many hits to the head does it take to try a different sport?” he asked. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.