There are about 10,000 spinal cord injuries annually in the United States.

About 10%, or 1000, occur in athletes. Catastrophic injury in high school and collegiate athletics is about 2.5 per 100,000 participants. The sports with the highest incidence of cervical (neck) spine injuries are Football, Diving, Wrestling and Gymnastics. Because football is more popular in the United States than the remaining high-risk sports listed above, most research into sporting injuries has focused in the incidence and management of neck injury in football players.

Subsequent results of this research have included rule changes that prohibit “spearing” and “butt-blocking”, both of which involve a direct blow to the top of the helmet with the chin in a tucked position.

Catastrophic Sports Injury Research
There is actually a National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research which publishes an annual report of their findings.

EPSN published a great article that my commenter Jim should like. The author takes a slightly angled approach and discusses previous spinal cord injured NFL players as well has NFL monetary compensation after injury, health insurance and worker’s compensation for NFL players.