Rugby the safe alternative to NFL headbangers
Imagine a kid playing contact sport, like high school rugby. He dies of major concussion, after a seemingly innocuous tackle. Is this the kind of thing people should be worried about?
The case popped up in a legal show I watched the other day calledHarry’s Law. Maybe it’s funded by interest groups with an axe to grind, but the issue was interesting. In this fictional case it was a high school gridiron player who had died.
I don’t aim to offend, because I know the same thing has happened in our own game, and my heart goes out to those who have lost a loved one in that fashion. But I do believe that in rugby those situations are mostly unfortunate and isolated incidents.
One of the (many) theses in the show that I was watching was that the boy died of secondary concussions, which they explained as the many minor hits to the skull that happen in training and in games that rarely even go noticed. Just ordinary training incidents and game situations.
The recent science apparently supports this thesis, and if it does, it should alarm a lot of parents.
The theory (which is on solid medical ground) is that young brains are still developing well into their owner’s mid 20s, and even very minor concussions (the sort that largely go unnoticed) can be harmful to proper cognitive development.
There was a lot more to the theories than that, but it got me thinking. Yes, we have concussive injuries in rugby – Berrick Barnes is a classic example. But how much do those helmets contribute to the concussive injuries that they purport to prevent or minimise?
The evidence in the case (admittedy concatenated by the needs of the Hollywood producer) was that helmets make players over-confident, and in a game of American football, players lead into collisions with their heads, believing that they are protected.
They suffer lots of head impacts during a game, and in effect are trained to do so, in the mistaken belief that they will just bounce off.
Because the game is controlled by big business, and a big stake is held by equipment manufacturers, then it follows that the helmet manufacturers might find ways to make helmets even better suited to collisions, thus contributing to the overall problem.
The show’s point was well made that you will never get the powerbrokers of gridiron to admit that their game is dangerous, at least until parents and the people who matter start taking the science seriously.
What an opportunity for rugby.
As a lawyer watching the program, I was thinking, why didn’t they get a few rugby blokes to be their expert witnesses (a flight of fancy, I know).
If they had, they would have been able to postulate that rugby, with the many hundreds of thousands of people who play it every year around the world, is a relatively safe game to play.
They could have shown that, we, as the true warrior sport, could show those gridiron blokes a thing or two, but most importantly, they could show what a silly game gridiron really is.
I mean, what is it about a race of people that believe that the the tougher the players become, or the faster, or the fitter, or bigger, the more they should increase the size of the padding or the protective gear?
What is wrong with accepting that blokes can crash into each other without killing themselves, and do it while wearing shorts, a jersey, and socks hanging around their ankles?
As rugby coaches or players, we have all learned the concept of preparation for contact. That means, in that split second or two before you take or make the hit and know that you are in for some pain, you do what you have to do to minimise it.
You drop the shoulder and turn your head, you close your mouth, you turn and take the hit, you tackle the tackler, you get the leg drive going and generally do anything or everything necessary to protect yourself, while trying to inflict a bit of pain on the other bloke.
At the very least, you act like a ferret and try to dig yourself into the turf, or accept that your back is about to become something that your mother didn’t envisage when she bore you. Or as a last resort you chuck a Hail Mary pass and run like hell, but, as we all know, they rarely work!
I realise that American Football is a multi-zillion dollar industry, but does that make it sacrosanct? Are they heading in the wrong direction?
If so, what can rugby do to make inroads and win hearts and minds in middle America? Go slowly, creep up and bite them on the bum.
Wouldn’t it be great if the USA and Canada can finally be taken seriously on the world rugby stage and the North American public start to get it, largely because they realise that the sports that they hold so dear are killing people unnecessarily.
Football has done it, by promoting the virtues of the Soccer Moms who see the game as a way to provide healthy sporting activities for their kids without the fear of major injury. What a novel concept! Why doesn’t rugby follow suit?
These are probably the ramblings of a madman, but I thought, well, if Hollywood is interested enough to make a program about this, then it is a social issue that deserves to be discussed. What do you think?
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