The 12 Most Dangerous Sports Of All Time

Football has been catching a lot of heat lately due to traumatic brain injuries players have received. However, some sports throughout the ages have proven far more hazardous to one’s health–and life. As the weather gets warmer and thrill seekers answer the call of adventure and glory, let’s take a look at the most dangerous sports of modern and ancient times.

12. Freediving
Do Hold Your Breath! This risky water activity involves taking a deep breath, diving as deep as you can go, and exploring underwater with just a mask and wetsuit: no air tank, just the oxygen you are holding in your lungs. Freedivers must carefully observe the physiological changes that occur as their depths increase. Oxygen in a diver’s lungs becomes more concentrated the deeper he goes, and can give him the illusion of having sufficient air for his dive; as pressure and oxygen concentration decrease as he ascends, the diver risks losing consciousness. This trick the body plays, called shallow water black out, killed many of the 309 freedivers who perished between 2006 and 2011.

11. Big Wave Surfing
Ride The Wave Before The Wave Rides You! Big wave surfers are on the constant quest for tsunami-like waves to conquer. These mammoth swells can reach 20 feet or higher and surfers run the risk of being plunged 20 to 50 feet below the surface or being held underwater by multiple waves if they wipe out. One of the more recent notable big wave surfing deaths occurred in 2011, when Sion Milosky was trapped under a two wave hold down after surfing 60 foot waves off Half Moon Bay in California.

10. Bull Running
The Longest Half Mile You’ll Ever Run! This annual tradition, which started in 14th century Pamplona, Spain, to accompany bullfighting festivities, has two highly unpleasant hazards: goring or trampling. Since 1924, at least 15 runners have been killed. While the fatality rate isn’t as high as some of the other sports on this list, the injury rate is countless and increasing as more tourists flock to the spectacles. In February of 2015, American Benjamin Miller was treated for massive goring wounds (including a 16-inch gash to the thigh) after getting gored and tossed by a bull in Ciudad Rodrigo.

9. BASE Jumping
Gravity Is Not Your Friend! Since 2010, there have been 100 fatalities attributed to BASE jumping. The adventure sport, which stands for ‘”Buildings, Antennae, Spans, and Earth,” involves parachutists throwing themselves from tall objects like skyscrapers and cliffs. BASE jumping is considered more dangerous than skydiving because the jumps are at a lower altitude and jumpers can lose control of their parachutes more easily. 1 in 60 BASE jumpers are killed each year.

8. Free Solo Climbing
No Mountain High Enough… In the most dangerous permutation of rock-climbing, free solo climbers methodically make their way up the sides of sheer rock walls using only their hands and feet: no ropes, no harnesses, no safety equipment. One false move, and you’re a goner. In August of 2014, visitors to Yosemite National Park witnessed the death of avid climber Brad Parker when he fell 300 feet from Matthes Crest while climbing alone. Parker had proposed to his girlfriend hours earlier after summiting Cathedral Peak with her.

7. Creeking
Up Without A Paddle! A risky subset of canoeing and kayaking, creeking (also known as steep creeking) mixes the rush of whitewater river runs with the exertion of mountaineering. Creekers descend steep mountain creeks fed by snowmelt, where the risk of smashing into rocks is high. It’s hard to find statistics specific to this notoriously exclusive adventure sport, but whitewater drowning deaths have increased each year as creeking becomes more popular with extreme athletes.

6. Bullfighting
Grabbing Death By The Horns! Although bullfighting has been seen in it’s most ancient form in paintings from 2000 BC of Cretan youngsters vaulting over bull’s horns, bullfighting as we know it today began as a Moorish ritual in what is now modern Spain around 711 AD. Aficionados insist that bullfighting is not a sport, but a deadly art form; the highly skilled matadors learn complex gestures and moves to beguile and eventually kill the charging bull, who would gore an untrained person in the ring in mere seconds. Records show that 533 matadors have been killed since 1700.

5. Heli Skiing
Come To The Mountain And The Mountain Will Come To You! The biggest safety concern of heli-skiing is not faced when a skier is dropped off from a helicopter onto a narrow ridge at the top of an inaccessible mountain. The most dangerous hazard of heli-skiing isn’t from plummeting at breakneck speeds down slopes that reach steepness levels of 50 degrees and vertical drops of 6,000 feet. No, the biggest danger of heli-skiing is getting buried alive: avalanches in the backcountry are common and participants must carry transponders in the event of burial. In 1991, a group of 12 heli-skiiers were exploring the mountains of British Columbia when an avalanche thundered down upon them, killing nine.

4. Jousting
Game of Broken Bones! Medieval tournaments were originally battles between two knights arranged to solve political conflicts. Eventually, a code of conduct, known as the code of chivalry, was developed to keep things civilized as armored knights hurtled at each other from horseback wielding lances. Combatants started out sporting only chainmail for protection, but as tournaments became less about war and more about showmanship, participants wore heavier and more elaborate armor. The term “freelance,” which is used today in reference to writers and other professionals, originally referred to jousting knights for hire with no allegiance to a particular king. Tournaments are still being held today; along with lacrosse, jousting one of the official state sports of Maryland.

3. Wingsuit Flying
Too Close To The Sun Will Get You Too Close To The Ground! Icarus of ancient Greek fame learned the hard way that flying like a bird can be fatal. Like Icarus, wingsuit flyers sport proxy wings, in this case a specially designed inflatable suit, and jump from cliffs or airplanes thousands of meters above the ground. Modern wingsuit flying killed its very inventor: in 1912, Franz Reichelt of Australia leapt from the Eiffel Tower in an attempt to test his “birdman suit.” He fell to his death, landing head first after falling 986 feet, however the cause of death was ruled to be a heart attack he suffered as he fell. It’s hard to believe this inspired more people to fabricate wingsuits, but the following century lead to more winged attempts, and more fatalities. The most dangerous form of wingsuiting, proximity flying, where elite skydiving athletes attempt to make passes near trees, cliffs, and other things that will kill you if you crash into them at high velocity, has taken the lives of over 87 wing-nuts since 2002. Proximity flying fatalities increase each year as the sport gains in popularity.

2. Gladiator Combat
Loser Dies First! The deadliest blood-sport of the ages, gladiatorial combat was an organized and highly lucrative spectacle for the people of ancient Rome, who often bet on matches. Although gladiators were originally culled from prisoners of war taken as slaves, the celebrity that many Colosseum warriors earned inspired multitudes of freemen and ex-soldiers down on their luck to sign contracts that pledged life and limb in the name of glory.
Most gladiators only lived to their mid-20’s and had about 10 bouts before their careers proved fatal. Not every arena battle ended in death, however; when a fight came to an end, the crowd of 50,000 to 80,000 citizens were famously given the opportunity to call for the slaughter of the defeated combatant or to plead for mercy. The Emperor had the final say on who lived and who died, and more often than not catered to the blood-lust of the crowd.

1. Cave Diving
Lost In The Abyss! Cave diving—one of the most terrifying and death-defying (and sometimes not–about 20 divers a year are killed) adventure sports ever, tops the list.
Imagine diving hundreds of feet underwater with a few hundred feet of rock between you and the surface–blocking out sunlight–trapping you in the pitch black deep unknown. The only things keeping you from getting lost or drowning in the void is an easily tangled guideline, a battery-powered lamp that can malfunction any moment and a limited amount of oxygen in your air regulator. If there’s a problem, you must return to the surface in painstaking increments to avoid the bends (air decompression sickness in which bubbles are created in the blood). If you go extremely deep, you also face the threat of nitrogen narcosis in the blood, which causes a drunken stupor and impairs live-saving judgement. The mere thought of such a scenario can send some into a panic. Avid cave divers, however, seek to find deeper and deeper holes to dive into. Over 500 cave divers have been killed attempting to explore Florida’s complex system of underwater caves and sinkholes. In South Africa, veteran diver David Shaw was killed 890 feet down Bushman’s Hole while attempting to recover the remains of Deon Dreyer, who had perished in a dive 10 years before. Don Shirley, who accompanied Shaw on the recovery mission, survived to tell the tale, but has permanent paralysis to his left side due to the bends.
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