Despite increased concern about the health consequences of contact sports, little is known about athletes’ understanding of their own risk of sports-related injury.
To assess whether college football players accurately estimate their risk of concussion and nonconcussion injury and to identify characteristics of athletes who misestimate their injury risk.
In this survey study, questionnaires were given to 296 current college football players on 4 teams from the 3 of the 5 most competitive conferences of the US National Collegiate Athletic Association. Surveys were conducted between February and May 2017. Data were analyzed from June 2017 through July 2020.
Multiple approaches were taken to compare athlete perceptions of their risks of concussion and nonconcussion injury with individual probabilities of these risks, which were modeled using logistic regression.
Of 296 male college-aged athletes from 4 football teams who participated in the survey, 265 (89%) answered all questions relevant for this study. Participating teams were similar to nonparticipating teams across nearly all measured characteristics. One hundred athletes (34%) had sustained 1 or more concussions, and 197 (68% of the 289 who responded to the question) had sustained 1 or more injuries in the previous football season. Logistic regression models of single-season injury and concussion had reasonably good fit (area under the curve, 0.75 and 0.73, respectively). Of the 265 participants for whom all relevant data were available, 111 (42%) underestimated their risk of concussion (χ2 = 98.6; P = .003). A similar proportion of athletes (113 [43%]) underestimated their risk of injury, although this was not statistically significant (χ2 = 34.0; P = .09). An alternative analytic strategy suggested that 241 athletes (91%) underestimated their risk of injury (Wilcoxon statistic, 7865; P < .001) and 167 (63%) underestimated their risk of concussion (Wilcoxon statistic, 26 768; P < .001).
The findings of this survey study suggest that college football players may underestimate their risk of injury and concussion. The implications for informed participation in sport are unclear given that people generally underestimate health risks. It is necessary to consider whether athletes are sufficiently informed and how much risk is acceptable for an athlete to participate in a sport.