Spectator Head Injuries – Are We Safe on the Sidelines?

Three days ago a toddler was hit in the face by a foul ball at a Yankee game; In June a fan at a Diamondback game was taken to the hospital for a head injury while he was sitting above the Diamondback’s dugout – an area not protected by netting. During the same month, a 61 year old was struck in the head by a loose bat during a college world series baseball game.

When I was a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Columbia Presbyterian, I remember seeing at least 1 or 2 kids a summer that were brought in for foul ball related head injuries that happened during Yankee games. There have been 2 reported deaths due to spectator injuries including a 14 year old boy in 1970 and a 13 year old girl that was hit by a puck during a hockey game in 2002. According to a 2014 Bloomberg report, there are an estimated 1750 foul ball injuries per season.

We worry about head injuries that happen while playing sports, but we really shouldn’t have to worry about sustaining head injuries while watching sports! In major league baseball, the solution to preventing many of these head injuries is to install netting that would prevent the ball from flying into the stands. Some major league baseball teams have agreed to install extended netting for the 2018 season. These teams include the Cincinnati Reds, The Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres. The Yankees are still holding out. They argue that people don’t want to sit behind netting, and that netting will block their view of the game. Other arguments against installing netting is the cost of installation (which is something I personally think the Yankees can afford).

It’s hard to understand why in a time when we are so concerned about the effects of concussion and head injury, we can’t mandate protective standards for participants AND fans.

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