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Can a Bowling Ball Kill You? The Surprising Dangers of This Innocuous Sports Equipment

  • Reading time:10 mins read

Picture this – you’re out bowling with friends, enjoying a fun night of friendly competition. Suddenly, a bowling ball comes hurtling towards you, striking you squarely in the head.

Unfortunately, this is not just a hypothetical scenario. Across the world, there have been multiple reports of people being seriously injured or even killed by wayward bowling balls.

Bowling is widely considered a relatively safe sport, with the most common risks being sore fingers or the occasional pulled muscle. However, the sheer weight and force generated by a fast-moving bowling ball can transform this seemingly harmless piece of sports equipment into a potentially deadly weapon.

In this article, we’ll explore the surprising dangers of bowling balls, analyze real-life incidents, and provide crucial safety recommendations to prevent these types of accidents.

The Physics of a Bowling Ball

To understand the potential lethality of a bowling ball, we need to examine the physics behind these heavy spheres. A standard 10-pin bowling ball typically weighs between 6 to 16 pounds, with the most common weights being 8, 10, and 12 pounds. While this may not sound particularly heavy, the kinetic energy and force generated by a fast-moving bowling ball can be immense.

Consider this – a 10-pound bowling ball traveling at just 20 miles per hour (mph) has a kinetic energy of approximately 44 joules. To put that into perspective, that’s about the same amount of energy released by a .22 caliber handgun bullet.

Now, imagine that same bowling ball moving at a more typical speed of 15-20 mph, which is common in recreational bowling. At this velocity, the kinetic energy skyrockets to 88-157 joules, making the impact equivalent to a .38 caliber handgun round.

The formula for kinetic energy is (1/2)mv^2, where ‘m’ is the mass of the object (the bowling ball) and ‘v’ is the velocity. As the mass and velocity increase, the kinetic energy rises exponentially. This means that a heavier, faster-moving bowling ball can generate an incredible amount of force upon impact, capable of causing severe injuries or even death.

Real-Life Incidents Involving Bowling Ball Injuries

Sadly, there have been numerous incidents around the world where people have been seriously injured or killed by bowling balls. These accidents typically occur due to a combination of factors, including improper handling, poor equipment maintenance, and simple bad luck.

In 2016, a man in Florida was struck in the head by a bowling ball that fell off a shelf at his local alley. The impact fractured his skull and caused severe brain damage, ultimately leading to his untimely death. Similarly, in 2019, a woman in Indiana was walking through a bowling alley when a ball fell from a rack, striking her in the head and killing her instantly.

These types of incidents are not limited to the general public, either. Even professional bowlers and staff at bowling alleys have fallen victim to the dangers of these heavy spheres. In 2018, a bowling alley employee in New York was struck in the head by a ball that had been accidentally left on a return conveyor, resulting in a fractured skull and traumatic brain injury.

One of the most high-profile cases occurred in 2013, when a professional bowler in the United States was killed during a tournament. As he was preparing to take his shot, a bowling ball that had been accidentally left on the lane suddenly rolled backwards, striking him in the head and causing fatal injuries. This tragic incident sent shockwaves through the bowling community and highlighted the importance of strict safety protocols in the sport.

Potential Scenarios for Lethal Bowling Ball Incidents

While the examples above illustrate the very real dangers of bowling balls, there are other scenarios in which these heavy objects can become deadly weapons. Let’s explore some of the potential situations that could result in catastrophic injuries or loss of life.

Dropping a Bowling Ball from a Height

Imagine a scenario where a bowling ball is accidentally dropped from a significant height, such as a shelf or balcony. The force of the ball striking a person’s head or other vital body parts could be absolutely devastating. A 10-pound bowling ball dropped from just 10 feet (3 meters) would have a kinetic energy of over 300 joules upon impact – the equivalent of a .40 caliber handgun round.

The impact of a falling bowling ball can cause severe trauma, including skull fractures, brain hemorrhages, and even instant death. In some cases, the ball may not even need to strike the victim directly, as the sheer force of the impact on the ground can send shrapnel-like fragments flying in all directions, posing a threat to bystanders.

Bowling Balls Falling off Shelves or Being Knocked Down

Another common scenario involves bowling balls falling from shelves or being accidentally knocked down. This can happen in bowling alleys, pro shops, or even in people’s homes if the balls are not properly stored and secured. Even a relatively short fall of just a few feet can generate enough force to cause serious injuries.

In 2017, a woman in California was browsing in a sporting goods store when a bowling ball fell from a shelf, striking her in the head. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and spent several months recovering in the hospital. Incidents like this highlight the need for robust safety measures and proper storage protocols to prevent these types of accidents.

Bowling Balls Striking the Head or Other Vital Body Parts

Perhaps the most terrifying scenario is when a bowling ball strikes a person’s head or other vital body parts directly. The sheer force of the impact can be absolutely devastating, potentially resulting in skull fractures, brain hemorrhages, or even instant death.

In 2021, a man in New York was walking through a bowling alley when a ball that had been accidentally left on the lane suddenly rolled backwards, striking him in the head. The impact fractured his skull and caused severe brain trauma, ultimately leading to his untimely demise.

These types of direct strikes are particularly concerning, as they can happen in a split second and leave little to no time for the victim to react or protect themselves. The combination of the bowling ball’s weight, velocity, and the vulnerable nature of the human skull and vital organs make these incidents truly horrific.

Safety Precautions and Prevention

Given the potentially deadly consequences of bowling ball-related accidents, it’s crucial that both bowling alley operators and individual bowlers take proactive steps to ensure the safety of everyone in the vicinity. Here are some essential safety precautions and preventive measures that should be implemented:

Proper Bowling Ball Storage and Handling

Bowling balls should always be stored securely, either on sturdy shelves with appropriate restraints or in designated ball returns. Ensure that the shelves or racks are properly secured to the walls or floor, and that the balls are arranged in a way that minimizes the risk of them falling or being knocked down.

When handling bowling balls, both bowlers and staff should exercise caution and use proper lifting techniques. Avoid carrying multiple balls at once, and be mindful of your surroundings to prevent accidentally dropping or mishandling the balls.

Bowling Alley Safety Protocols

Bowling alley operators must implement and enforce strict safety protocols to protect both customers and staff. This includes:

  • Regularly inspecting and maintaining ball return systems to ensure they are functioning correctly.
  • Implementing policies to prevent bowling balls from being left on the lanes after use.
  • Providing clear signage and instructions to guide bowlers on proper ball handling and storage.
  • Training staff on safety procedures and empowering them to intervene if they observe unsafe behavior.
  • Ensuring that the facility is well-lit, with clear sightlines and unobstructed walkways.

By prioritizing safety and proactively addressing potential hazards, bowling alley operators can significantly reduce the risk of devastating bowling ball-related incidents.

Individual Awareness and Responsibility

While bowling alley operators have a crucial role to play in ensuring safety, individual bowlers also have a responsibility to be vigilant and take appropriate precautions. Some key steps that bowlers can take include:

  • Familiarizing themselves with the proper techniques for lifting, carrying, and releasing bowling balls.
  • Maintaining situational awareness and being mindful of their surroundings, especially when moving around the bowling alley.
  • Immediately reporting any unsafe conditions or behavior to the staff.
  • Encouraging friends and fellow bowlers to also adhere to safety best practices.

By fostering a culture of safety and personal responsibility, the bowling community can work together to minimize the risks associated with these heavy, powerful sports equipment.


Bowling may seem like a harmless recreational activity, but the reality is that bowling balls can be deadly weapons if proper safety measures are not in place.

The sheer weight and force generated by these heavy spheres, combined with the potential for accidents and human error, make them a genuine threat to public safety.

Through this article, we have explored the physics behind bowling balls, examined real-life incidents where they have caused serious injuries and fatalities, and outlined potential scenarios in which they can become lethal.

Most importantly, we have emphasized the crucial importance of safety precautions, both at the institutional level and for individual bowlers.

By implementing robust safety protocols, ensuring proper storage and handling of bowling balls, and promoting a culture of vigilance and personal responsibility, we can help prevent these types of tragic accidents from occurring. Bowling should be a fun, enjoyable activity for people of all ages, but it must also be a safe one.

Remember, a bowling ball may seem like an innocuous piece of sports equipment, but in the wrong circumstances, it can become a deadly weapon.

Stay alert, follow safety guidelines, and always prioritize the well-being of yourself and those around you. Only then can we truly enjoy the thrill of bowling without the looming specter of danger.