Headstrong: Ruggers and Tacklers

Mary Devine


Note: this is an opinions piece.

Football is a sport that every American knows, and some Americans live and breathe it. There are over thirty teams in the National Football League (NFL), each team carrying along with them thousands of fans. Known to other countries as “American football” to differentiate it from football (soccer) and rugby football, it stands as one of the treasures of America. However, there is a more challenging, dangerous, and exciting sport that trumps all that is awesome about American football: the great non-American-originated sport of rugby.  

Overshadowed by the hype of football, rugby is not a well-known sport in America, but it is one of the roughest, toughest, and most downright brutal full-contact sports worldwide. Rugby requires strength and perseverance. Some can say football needs this too, but not the same amount as rugby. One could say that rubgy players, called ruggers, require more endurance when playing the game because according to Diffen,  ruggers play through two non-stop forty minute halves with ten minutes of half time in between. Unlike American football, the game clock rarely comes to a halt, only stopping in the case of prolonged injuries.

To make the game even harder, ruggers are only permitted to pass the rugby ball side to side, or backwards. Not having a quarterback to plan out the next move, ruggers rely on each other to be open and ready to sprint toward the other opponent’s touch zone. In comparison, American football is a more strategic game, like chess, with quick, thought-out moves and counter-attacks. Both sports can leave fans on the edge of their seats, but since rugby does not have a specific set of moves and countermoves, it’s amore spontaneous game, which makes it more exciting to watch. 

Following the traditional way of playing, ruggers wear aminimum amount of protective gear when engaging in play. Compared to the gear worn by ruggers, American football requires a series of protective gear to ensure safety, lessening the true brute strength and pain tolerance required for the game. 

Strapped up in a helmetwhich consists of a chin strap, air-filled interior pockets to decrease the risk of a concussion, a face mask, and for those who cannot deal with the sun in their eyes, a visor, the typical football player’s head is completely engulfed in protection. On top of that, a player will wear a series of different pads to shelter their body from an unexpected blow. Dressed from head-to-toe in shoulder, thigh, and knee pads, most of the football player’s body is covered and protected.

The only permitted helmet in the sport of rugby is a scrum cap, which is a slightly padded helmet that fits over the top of the head and ears. Unlike football, in which a helmet is required at all times, it is completely optional in rugby. According to the fitness foundation Livestrong, a scrum cap is the only protective piece of equipment that rugby playerswear other than mouthguards. Ruggers are also required to wear rugby specific shirts with little to no padding.

According to the USA Rugby Protective Equipment and Clothing Guidelines 2015, “Rugby specific shirts withpadding are permitted only in the shoulders and upper arms ofthe undergarment. Undershirts are allowed as long as there is no padding on the ribs, hips, back, orchest.” This means that besides the optional scrum cap and mouth guard, there is no real protective equipment to protect from major injuries, concussions, and other major head trauma. 

Some could argue that although football has padding, the hits are unexpected and executed with full force, which can indeed cause major injuries and head trauma. This is definitely true; the percentage of NFL players suffering from head injuries is growing higher and higher, but the risk of injury for a rugger is far greater. Just like in football, hard unexpected hits are more than common in rugby. Once again, because of the lack of protective gear, ruggers are prone to getting serious, even life-threatening head injuries.

The Brain Injury Law Center stated that, “[Approximately] 1,200 people suffer from head injuries while playing rugby each year [and] about two-thirds of these injuries are either concussion or brain injuries… The Auckland University of Technology compared the number of catastrophic incidents [and]...found that with the exception of England, rugby incidents worldwide showed 4.6 catastrophic injuries for every 100,000 players annually. The same Auckland University of Technology report showed American football resulting in 1.0 catastrophic incidents per every 100,000 players.” When compared to rugby, football had more than seventy-five percent fewer catastrophic injuries. 

Although American football is known as a macho-patriotic-rough-all-American contact sport, the constant stopping of the game clock, overly padded players, and lesser catastrophic injury statistic can not live up to the enduring, dangerous, and exciting game of rugby.