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article imageDecreasing the costs of sports injuries

By Anna Johansson     Jun 20, 2013 in Sports
It is heartbreaking to watch a hero suffer an injury in the middle of a game and, after a wave of recent injuries, many franchises are feeling the pain in both their roster and wallet.
In October of 2008, Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden sprained his foot, and team management winced. It occurred during the season opener, and the team had just signed Oden to a two-year contract worth $8 million. To make matters worse, he was just coming off a knee injury that kept him benched during much of his freshman year in college.
That good news was that the injury didn't keep Oden off the court indefinitely. He was back a few weeks later, and the cost to the Blazers was only around $400,000.
In other cases, though, a sports injury has been far more costly. One of Oden's teammates, Raef LaFrentz, endured a shoulder injury that ended up costing the Blazers a whopping $12.7 million. While playing for the Washington Wizards, Gilbert Arenas suffered a knee injury that took him out for half a season. At the time, he was drawing an annual salary of $11 million.
Major league investments
Any $11 million dollar investment is a huge one - especially when the fact they will constantly be in harms way is considered. Structured in terms of millions or tens of millions, sports contracts frequently lock in for two or more years, regardless of whether or not the player is healthy enough to take the field. Contracts are so favorable to players and risky for owners because of free agency, which is the ability for players to be picked up by any team, something that caught on in professional sports about the mid 1970s.
So when a player gets hurt, that means the team not only continues to pay their salary, but the salary of a potential replacement as well.
Is insurance an option for any of these professional sports teams? Not typically. Insurance companies understand the unpredictability and severity of sports injuries, and have politely said, "No, thanks." As a result, it's nearly impossible for team management to buy an insurance policy on a player's contract, especially after the first couple years of a multi-year deal.
This leaves owners with only one option: take the risk and pay for it. In 2008, the 50 most expensive sports injuries in professional baseball cost owners a grand total of $227 million. That figure amounted to almost $50 million more than the total cost of two average (and healthy) rosters.
At one time, a $2 million yearly salary seemed a lot for a player. But major league baseball star Alex Rodriguez picked up that much just for being injured for a 15-day period. In baseball, owners are particularly sensitive about the risk associated with signing pitchers. One wild pitch, coupled with the intensity of arm motion associated with it, and that pitcher could be seriously injured and possibly out for the season.
Equal opportunity injury providers
Of course, injuries are not unique to professional basketball and baseball players. The NFL, a sport notorious for its crushing violence, has a history of expensive injuries as well. When celebrity quarterback Tom Brady was injured during the season opener in 2008, he was out for the season. The Patriots ended up paying him $7.6 million anyway.
The NHL, a league in which a hockey game is occasionally known to break in the middle of a fight, has wasted money on injured players as well. Sergei Gonchar once earned $5.5 million in dead money when he was out with a dislocated shoulder.
All of this points to one, underlying necessity in the world of professional sports: if injuries are unavoidable, then they should be mitigated as much as possible. Although professional teams are known to do whatever they can to prevent sports injuries, some injuries will still occur.
For the moment, nothing will change. Owners will continue to take the risks, and opt for a greater potential return with better players; and players will still make money even while injured. With proper care and preventive maintenance, however, the cost of sports-related injuries might not have to be as severe as it has been in the past.
More about Greg oden, Alex rodriguez, Injuries, sports injuries
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