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Recently, spectators during Major League Baseball (MLB) games at Fenway Park in Boston, MA and Turner Field in Atlanta, GA died or were severely injured under circumstances that would not have been foreseen (3). Since then, the MLB has recommended that all teams lengthen their ballparks’ safety netting in order to offer more fan protection (4). This suggests that an under-recognized public health risk may exist for the general community in attendance at sporting events despite their substantial popularity as recreational destinations. However, records of fatalities or injuries to MLB spectators are limited to anecdotal reports (2,3), and a publically available centralized registry does not exist. To bridge this knowledge gap, we conducted a comprehensive Internet search for injuries to spectators at MLB games from 2009 to 2014, and distributed an ethics board-approved survey to MLB team representatives to understand current practices for cataloguing fan injuries.
We identified through publically available media reports 33 MLB spectators injured at 20 different venues (age range 4–69 yr; 15% ≤13 yr; 64% male), including 6 (18%) fatalities and 27 (82%) non-fatal injuries (Table). All fatalities were primarily a consequence of traumatic brain injury from blunt head trauma. Injuries involving trauma to the face or skull also occurred in the majority of non-fatal events (N=20), including skull fracture (N=7), traumatic brain injury (N=4), and retinal detachment (N=1). We observed in this cohort that death or injury was caused by a foul ball (39%), fall (27%), stray baseball bat (15%), or violent assault (6%). For the survey, of 30 team representatives contacted, 63% did not return communications despite multiple correspondences. Furthermore, of the 11 contacted successfully, 7 declined to answer survey questions citing legal reasons, team policy, or disinterest, while none of the 4 teams that acknowledged official record keeping of fan injuries were willing to disclose any further information.
Serious or fatal injury to spectators at MLB games is likely to be uncommon, although we believe that the true incidence of these events is greater than this report suggests (1–3). Nonetheless, the potential for death and serious injury to fans at MLB games constitutes an important risk of recreational activities. The leisurely setting, family-friendly marketing, and access to alcohol at professional sporting events may deceive spectators to the potentially serious hazards of attendance. We believe that systematic surveillance of these events through an injury registry (5), as well as enhanced awareness among fans regarding the risks associated with game attendance, is likely to help preserve safety for fans and the sanctity of the game.
Mark R. Zonfrillo, Department of Emergency Medicine, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, 55 Claverick Street, 2nd Floor, Providence, RI 02903, Email: ude.nworb@ollirfnoz.
Nicholas G. Janigian, Villanova University, 131 Applegate Road, Cranston, RI 02920, Email: ude.avonalliv@aiginajn.
Bradley A. Maron, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 77 Ave. Louis Pasteur, NRB-Rm 0630-N, Boston, MA 02115, Email: gro.srentrap@noramb.