“Riding a Bike is More Dangerous than Football”

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This is the statement by Dr. Joseph Maroon, a board certified clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Pittsburg Steelers’ team neurosurgeon and also a consultant to the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee.

Okay, this guy is an idiot.

This all started because of a NFL player, Chris Borland, who was 24, played one season in the NFL and suddenly announced his retirement from the sport.  He did this after researching brain trauma and realizing that he would have a very, very high chance of being a babbling idiot if he kept playing a whole career.

He really didn’t have to look too far.  Just Google CTE and the studies are there.  76 out of 79 NFL players, that they have brain tissue looked at, after they died, have CTE, a degenerative brain disease.  And it is nearly, but not quite, as bad if you just played football through high school and in college.  101 out of 128, or 80%, had CTE.

So, Chris was a brave soul.  He walked away from a multi-million dollar contract so he could, hopefully, keep more of his brain function.  By the results of the study, he still has a pretty high chance of having CTE, but his odds of it being live changing has to be less, now that he has quit.

For an NFL spokesman to try to compare their sports danger, which is pretty much a guarantee, to our sport, is ridiculous.

If I were a parent, I would never consider letting my child do a sport that is going to cause lots and lots of micro-concussions.

Check out the photo below and see the photo of the brain after CTE.  I very much doubt that looks like a professional cyclists’ brain after he ends his career, let alone and small child that has fallen off his bike or skateboard a few times.

Chris Borland is a brave man and a true leader, while Dr. Maroon should be ashamed of himself for misleading the general public.


34 thoughts on ““Riding a Bike is More Dangerous than Football”

  1. donkybhoy

    Surprise! Big sporting federation rolls out a doctor with misinformation in order not to upset the apple cart.

    Anyone remember Dr Michele Ferrari saying epo was just like orange juice………

  2. Doug

    But if you were a parent, would you allow your child to go on long bike rides alone and risk getting hit by a bad driver or just some asshole who doesn’t like cyclists? Or risk crashing on a high speed descent while training alone in the middle of nowhere?
    Not saying both sports aren’t dangerous, it just seems that the likelihood of injury in football is higher but the severity of injury in cycling has the potential to be much higher.

  3. David

    Borland was interviewed on “CBS This Morning” today. He was asked about the cycling/football statement. His reply was the dangers are inherent to the game of football. He said you can ride a bike and the act of riding a bike does not cause brain trauma. Yes, you can fall off a bike but that’s if something goes wrong. Everything could go right in football and it’s till dangerous. My paraphrasing of what he said.

  4. Max Hunter

    The facts are simple. Nobody realized the dangers before. Now they do and there are doctors and trainers making decisions about whether a player can go back in after a blow to the head. Brain injury issues are only going to get better now that study’s and research are actually being done.

    As far as CTE goes, nobody knows if the steroids are causing it, blows to the head, or if large men are more susceptible to CTE. To assume it is repetitive blows without any actual science yet is dangerous. The media likes sensational stories and this head injury stuff is a great thing for media outlets to trump out infront of us during sweeps weeks.

    If the players were actually concerned with their health, there’d be some deeper dives into steroid usage and the potential health concerns there. In 1985, William Perry was the largest player in the NFL at just over 300lbs. Now, he probably wouldn’t get a contract because is too small and too slow. How did the NFL players gain so much weight and get so much faster in 20 years? The answer is the same as the answer to speed in cycling — Drugs.

    Has anybody in the media been asking questions about domestic violence in the NFL being related to steroids? No. There is an “omerta” around drugs in American Pro sports just like there was in cycling and it extends into the media.

  5. Steve Tilford Post author

    Doug-Absoulutely, I’d let my child go on long bike rides alone. Life has built inherent dangers built in and, of course, cycling does add more, but those risks seem reasonable. You can’t have your children living in a foam room. Sure, there are potential dangers involved with cycling, but from the results of those studies, it is a given that you are going to have serious brain injury from prolonged participation in football.

  6. Ron

    “To assume it is repetitive blows without any actual science yet is dangerous.” Y, that’s what’s dangerous. LOL

  7. El Jabón

    Don’t worry steve, at least most of the public are shaking their heads in disbelief at this “Doctor”.
    I learned the hard way in high school that soccer was the most dangerous sport in terms of %’s, i broke hands, feet, noses, got concussions as a defender.
    Anyways, most sports are at least a little dangerous–part of why we do them! Buy CTE or any type of serious, chronic brain injury? That’s not an injury, that is a TRAGEDY!!

  8. Jacque Meihauf

    The Maroon is just using bicycles as a generic reference to show that football is as safe and easy as riding a bike. He probably put about three seconds total into that statement.

    The sad truth is that cycling CAN be that dangerous. Actually it’s not the cycling itself, it’s the crashing and more specifically, the blows to the head. If you’ve ever crashed and had your bell rung hard enough, then you have experienced what football players experience. Same can be said if you hit your head while surfing, or skiing, or if you get hit in the head by an errant pitch or smacked upside the head too many times in the cage. Injuries to the head are just that and it doesn’t matter how it happens. If you hit your head enough times and with enough force, you can have very serious problems.

    Pro and amateur racing cyclists hit the deck WAY too much and you can bet that they are getting their bells rung from time to time. Every single pro race on tv has massive crashes. But do I think cycling is more dangerous than football? No, I ride a bike and there is no way I or my kids would play football. But I don’t race anymore. Too dangerous.

  9. Dicky

    If you wanna read more about the NFL and how they’ve dealt with this in the past, grab League of Denial.

    It. Was. Amazing.

  10. euro

    Steve-that was exactly what I thought you’d say. Especially since you have no kids. I quit riding a couple years ago after 30 years due to the dangerous drivers I had been encountering more and more often. I pray that my kids don’t want to race bikes when they grow up. I’d go nuts worrying about them every time they went out to train. The problem with cycling is that if you are involved in an accident with a car, you pretty much are guaranteed to die. In other sports, kids get injured but rarely have any long term injuries.

  11. Bill K

    Maybe he’s right…….I was never hit by a car when I was out on a football field.

    Just kiddin’

    To tell the truth, in 30+ years of riding and racing, I’ve only landed on my head once.

  12. Levi

    Fabio Casartelli, Tom Simpson, Marco Pantani, Wouter Weylandt, Nicole Reinhart and many more would disagree with you Steve. Oh but wait, they can’t disagree…..cycling killed them.

    For an NFL player, the stakes are high. They’re risking this potential danger for millions of dollars and a truly incredible life. Cyclists at the top level may have somewhat similar things at stake. However after college 99.99% of football players stop…….. for good. Cyclists sometimes haven’t even started yet by then. For us folks (your readers) an afternoon ride, a training race, an industrial park crit, a mountain bike ride with friends, or an actual road race could all result in death at any moment. Or any other horrible injury including concussions, paralysis, broken or dislocated bones, huge loss of skin, blindness, loss of teeth, disfigurement, etc….

    I get that your opinion is jaded in favor of your passion, but that’s sort of narrow minded, no? I bet there isn’t a football player on earth that’s sustained as many injuries as you have through cycling. And with all those heavy falls you’ve taken, you don’t think the old brain might be a little jacked up like the rest of that body of yours?

    You may disagree with Mr. Maroon, but does that really mean he’s an idiot? I think he was fairly on point, especially in this day and age with “distracted driving” being what it is. Any time you ride a bike down the road, you’re at great risk. Your life could end in an instant. Sounds dangerous enough to me.

    Ignorance = Idiocy.

  13. Steve Tilford Post author

    Levi-Marco Pantani? Huh? And Tommy Simpson? I think you’re mistaking injuries and drug usage? I’m not addressing drug usage in professional football. The study shows 95% of the brains that have been dissected of professional football player show CTE.

    You’ve lost your mind about injuries in professional football. 90% of the players retire with a life long injury. The average playing duration is 3.3 years. That isn’t counting the degenerative brain issues.

    I’ve had a few concussions in my career. Like I can count them on one hand. But nothing, not even close to what a person that has played football for a since elementary school. Micro-concussions are shown to start this CTE as well as full blown concussions.

    Getting killed by an automobile, while out riding, is still very rare.

    Many sports are dangerous. Cycling, motocross, etc. But American football is just stupid if you look at the injuries and life after effects.

  14. Levi

    OK. Point taken on the drug use. But it does illustrate another way cycling can be dangerous, much like any sport I guess.

    I just find it hard to believe that you think the two sports are so far apart in terms of danger. Nicole, Fabio and Wouter all died right there in the middle of the playing field. There are many more too. How many football players have died in the middle of a game on the field. And don’t mention the 350 lb fat slobs that drop dead in the summer training camps when it’s 100 degrees.

    Outside of motorsports, is there a sport where more athletes have actually perished in competition than cycling? Skiing maybe? But you see my point, it’s dangerous as shit. Bad enough to see people die with a number pinned on. I don’t consider anyone an idiot for making this observation. The stakes can be extremely high!

    This guy was just pointing out that other sports are dangerous too. Yes football is incredibly stupid to play and risk life altering injuries, but it sure as hell is fun to watch. A football game is exciting to watch the whole way through. How does a flat stage of the Vuelta rate for excitement? It’s painful to even think about watching it.

    Anyway, I don’t disagree. Football is crazy to play and incredibly dangerous. But I also think cycling is outrageously dangerous. Moreover it reaches out and touches the everyman. We don’t play any football in our 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond, but we sure do cycle a lot in those years. So at the end of the day since no one here plays any football at all….. ever. It’s got a zero danger rating. Those that do play are no different than MMA fighters, they know they’re at risk and they’re ok with it. On the other hand we all ride, so we’re all in danger that way. I wouldn’t say it’s rare to get hit by a car on a bike. I’ve been through several, and I’m sure most of your readers have too. Dying from it may be more rare, but danger is danger.


  15. dan parker

    I am a living relic of brain injury and cycling…racing bmx. We all need to remember it only takes a couple blows to the head to start the damage. A helmet is no good at anything over 9mph. We are all at risk for this type of disease. If you are in you late 30’s or early 40’s and have no problems great for you. Now, when I think back, my troubles started when I was 14 years old and almost 30 years later I get some answers about my problems. Any discipline of cycling can be and is dangerous.

  16. Tom Petrie

    Cycling is NOT dangerous. It only became dangerous in the late ’70’s when bicycle helmet companies emerged and realized there was money to be made selling protection against the “danger” of cycling. Before that, nobody wore a helmet. Kids didn’t wear helmets, adults didn’t wear helmets and about 12 zillion Dutch people who ride their bikes every day still don’t wear helmets. AND they live to tell the tale for a very simple reason – riding a bicycle is not dangerous. Can you hurt yourself if you fall off a bicycle? Sure. But you can hurt yourself (and are statistically more likely to) falling off a ladder, falling down stairs, falling in the tub, etc. People who don’t ride bikes worry about getting hit by cars. Is it a risk? Yes. So is walking across the street. And if you get hit by a car, 6 oz of polystyrene only protects you up to a point. My blog post explains explains my position on this in much greater detail. (See: http://www.cantitoeroad.com/Dumbos-Magic-Feather–The-case-against-bicycle-helmets_b_19.html). Don’t get sucked into believing that cycling is dangerous. It is not dangerous. But anybody who equates slamming your head full force into the head of an opposing player thousands of times as being anything near equivalent to the “danger” of cycling IS dangerous. Especially if that person is a board certified clinical professor of neurological surgery.

  17. dan parker

    Tom in your blog you make some very good points. The only good a helmet does is to keep contusions to your head to a minimum. Once the head hits the ground, pavement or what ever that little bit of protection around your head is useless. The brain makes a sudden change in speed…hits the skull and makes another sudden change in speed…and bam boom you have your brain injury…from minor to a major tbi. But please admit that cycling is dangerous. Just as you said walking across the street is dangerous also. What we should be saying is cycling is dangerous but horrible injuries are few and far between. That is a more accurate definition of the dangers of cycling.
    I agree with you on helmets…I always say a helmet is more dangerous to wear than not to. Your vision is limited, you may feel you can ride at a higher level, because of the helmet and they simply don’t work over a certain MPH which I think I read is 9 MPH.
    We come from different backgrounds in cycling. As I stated in my original post I am from a long bmx racing background and you a road background. I would say that road cycling is many factors safer than bmx racing…but still has the risk.

  18. Larry T.

    Exactly right! Sadly, it’s all about the $$. If he told the truth he’d be out of his NFL job in a heartbeat and what would happen to his neurosurgeon biz if people stop getting those repeated brain traumas? It’s like asking the cops to put an end to crime, or the Pentagon to put an end to war….where’s the incentive? Now, how ’bout Milano-Sanremo on Sunday? The first race of the real cycling pro season.

  19. Larry T.

    I’m with Tom on this one. Cycling’s certainly less dangerous than driving around in automobiles, but you rarely hear someone saying “I don’t DRIVE, it’s too dangerous!” Life is dangerous in the fact that 100% of the time it ends in death. It doesn’t stop people from having kids though! My wife gives me a lot of crap if I fail to wear a brain bucket, but since I no longer have any hair, it helps to hold a bandana on my head so it doesn’t get fried by the sun. Win-win for me!

  20. James

    Your comment makes no sense! He is saying “riding a bike” not competing, not riding in the tour, just
    “just riding bike.” Secondly a broken bone is an injury yes, but the doctor is making a value judgment on injuries to deceive he public. Why I may be more common to break a bone bike racing or playing soccer etc., only football players result in irreparable brain injuries brought on b trauma. You cannot compare a broken nose with permanent brain injury. So what if football is “safe.” It has ruined more live than many other sports !

  21. Doubting Thomas

    I don’t know, I like Levi… And football is going to have to change to survive, as is cycling- both are more dangerous than they need to be but neither are as dangerous as all of the helicopter moms want you to think. I will say, nothing in football is as dangerous as a car. I know of a few severe brain injuries from crashing bikes- and deaths. Life is dangerous…

  22. mark

    Trying to compare helmets in football with helmets is cycling is pointless and they are not even apples/apples comparisons. Helmets in football have caused players to use their head and hit each other helmet to helmet. That’s why football players get head injuries. Players get this sense of superiority so they intentionally hit their head on another players head. They are not hitting there head on the ground or getting hit by a car.

  23. Bryan

    I don’t insist that others wear helmets cycling – EVER. However you will never see me riding down the road without my helmet correctly secured to my head – EVER. Why? Because I’ve had three instances where medical professionals have stated that without the protection it afforded, I would be at best a drooling idiot, at worst dead. One helmet was crushed when a van turned left in front of me and I bounced head first off of it’s rear quarter-panel at 20mph. The third one, just two years ago, had the rear portion of is crushed and fractured when I went down hard in some loose sand/gravel in a roundabout a couple of years ago. I saw stars, but that was the worst of it.

    In 2005 I hit another cyclist, who whipped out in front of me, head on. We were both going over 20mph. I ended up on the bottom of the heap with a ripped open arm, two non-salveable rims, and a whopper of a headache. I got transported to the local ER for 23 stitches in my arm and a CT scan of my head. The helmet had cracked almost perfectly in half lengthwise. The medical staff there basically diagnosed me with having my bell rung (I simplified that, of course) but were fairly certain if I had not been wearing the helmet, the park police would likely have been scooping my brains off the road. They kept the helmet to use in the bicycle safety program they provided to younger kids and I was happy to give them such a good visual aid.

    So don’t wear a helmet. But please don’t ask me to pay for long-term medical care for a drooling vegetable who did not wear one. Being a medical person myself for years, I know this happens.

  24. Jandle

    I am a parent of two kids who do race and both go on long training rides alone. That wasn’t always the case. I didn’t allow it until I was confident they had the skills and maturity to handle themselves. I couldn’t very well justify going out for rides myself and then not allowing my kids, who are probably even better riders than I am, the same freedom. I would disagree with Euro’s points about injury. Yes it is possible to die on a bike ride, but not likely any more than if they were in a car. I probably have more close calls each day in my car than on the bike. Car collisions are not guaranteed death, i have had several. However, many other sports can almost guarantee long term injuries much more than cycling. The constant impact or torque of sports like football, gymnastics, running, skiing, certain positions of baseball, all leave athletes with chronic knee, back, or other joint issues that hinder them long after their participation. Cycling is a lifetime sport because it does not inherently break the body down through normal participation. How many cyclists have turned to our sport because of a career ending injury in another? Yes, cycling has risks and those can be catastrophic. The benefits outweigh those risks in my opinion as I take similar risks just pulling out of my driveway every morning.

  25. BL

    Tom Petrie and Tilly,
    You make some good points. But in general, you are wrong in saying that cycling is not dangerous. The act of pedaling a bike is pretty benign of course. But the activity of cycling can be dangerous in many ways once you are involved in an accident, whether in racing or simply riding on an Amsterdam street or anywhere else. Yes, lots of people are injured or killed in household accidents, but to compare falling in a tub to cycling is ignorant and ridiculous. As an example, you typically stand in a tub for typically just a few moments and the same can be said for walking up some stairs. However, when cycling you are out on the road for sometimes multiple hours sharing the road with cars, trucks, farm vehicles, etc. All driven by people who can be sick, drunk, high, distracted or otherwise. And what about road debris? Animals? Oil on the road? Adverse weather conditions? Road damage? If you’re talking about bike racing, all you have to do is watch the overhead shot of a Pro Tour sprint finish to understand how truly dangerous and frightening that is. Your arguments do not have the benefits of the odds and statistics.

    You are right in saying that a polystyrene helmet provides limited protection and paying up to $200. for them is absurd. But, the truth is that bicycle helmets have saved lives and prevented serious injury and will continue to do so long as people wear them. For some people, the helmet will not be enough to save them, but your odds are always better when wearing a helmet. Always. There is absolutely no argument against that fact.

    When making comparisons, make sure you are comparing apples with apples. Otherwise the comparisons are nonsense. For the record, I say Dr. Maroon comparing football with cycling is a case of comparing apples to oranges. It’s nonsense.

  26. Christine

    Coup contrecoup injury or what I refer to as your brain ricocheting back & forth on your skull. I recall a post concussion discussion (~15 years ago) with my doctor…. “Well it’s not going to make you any smarter.”

    I believe my bike helmet saved me from a much more serious injury.

  27. Dave

    6 years ago I was standing up to get through an intersection when I ended up hitting the top of my head on the asphalt when my left crank arm snapped. The helmet I was (luckily) wearing split into two pieces like an egg. I got up and walked home, but was fuzzy, light headed and had a bad headache. My wife “made” me go to the local ER, where the Orthopod on call got me a CT and pronounced me OK, but with a mild concussion. When I showed him my helmet, he said that no doubt it had saved me from more serious injury.

    I started riding in San Antonio in 1982 after seeing my heros of the day at the Tour of Texas. I never thought about wearing a helmet for years, but won’t ride without on today.

  28. Bill V

    I feel sorry for the people who say that they quit cycling because they decided at some point that they might get hurt and that it was too dangerous to continue. On the other hand, there’s one less Fred on the road who doesn’t belong there. More room for the rest of us!

  29. CMac

    “I agree with you on helmets…I always say a helmet is more dangerous to wear than not to. Your vision is limited, you may feel you can ride at a higher level, because of the helmet and they simply don’t work over a certain MPH which I think I read is 9 MPH.”

    Dan Parker

    Sorry Dan, that’s just crazy. Of course if you go head on into a hard object or the ground at any speed you’re in big trouble. But what if you come off the bike at 25 or 30mph on your shoulder, arm, ribs and hip, slide for a second and then your head whips into the road? That happened to me and scraped and dented the helmet. It didn’t hurt at all but a dent to my skull might have been catastrophic and road rash on the head would bleed profusely.

    As for driving being more dangerous than cycling? That’s more craziness Riding in Miami is crazy and New York metro area can also be nuts.


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