I played rugby for several years, both in college and post-college. Just about every person who heard I played rugby had the following comment: “Rugby? Isn’t that dangerous?” Yes, rugby is a rough sport, and I can’t deny that (especially with two screws in my knee from a rugby practice-related injury). But I always tell people that I feel rugby is safer than American Football, which has always struck me as a dangerous and chaotic sport. There’s been quite a bit of debate about concussions and football lately, and according to Forbes, even former football player Kurt Warner doesn’t want his kids playing football!
In 2010, Warner told CNN that concussions were part of the game of football — and, he says now, that’s part of the problem. While awareness of the long-term severity of concussions, and improvement in their immediate diagnosis, has grown significantly in recent years, Warner’s statement brings up two scary scenarios for parents.
First, you just don’t know how your child’s body will react to a concussion. Second, the peer pressure is still strong to hide a concussion as much as possible so you can get back on the field.
Warner has a long explanation on hisas well:
Honestly, I agree with a great deal of his argument. I have seen teammates on the rugby pitch argue they should head back into a game where they are clearly hurt, and I have seen people turn up days after playing a game of rugby with injuries they did not get treated right away because they thought they could shake it off. And that’s a women’s rugby team, where we weren’t varsity, and we certainly were not professionals. It is hard to admit you are hurt in the heat of the moment, and that’s the case whether it’s a head injury or a torn knee ligament (say, if you hypothetically tore your ACL and then pretended it was fine for 24 hours…not that I know anything about that.)
I said above that despite the dangers in both, I think rugby is safer than football, and I am not the only one. There have been multiple studies indicating the injury rate in rugby is LOWER than football, and much of that gets credited to the lack of padding in rugby. If you tackle someone and neither of you has much protection, it’s going to hurt both of you. A lot. If you tackle someone wearing heavy pads and a helmet, there’s a false sense of security. It also means tackles are given more leeway to be sloppy. In rugby, there is no sloppiness tolerated. A referee will call a penalty for a high tackle and other unsafe practices, because with no padding that can be significantly more unsafe. Plus, football helmets have been studied as a potential source of injury, so clearly padding isn’t always the answer.
Now, I don’t have kids. But if I had kids old enough to play football, I don’t think I would support them participating. Unsurprisingly, given my bias throughout this post, I would be ok with my kids playing youth rugby. It just seems like the safety awareness in football is just too behind the curve, especially if a former professional wouldn’t want his children playing. All amateur athletes look to emulate the pros in some way, and if a pro doesn’t think football is safe, well, that’s a giant red flag to me!