American football players have been plagued with concussions, unknown to them for years. Typically, these concussions occur during tackles. The padding that players wear gives them a false sense of security and some players use their head as a tackling device. Rugby also gets a lot of criticism because of injuries players receive, but the concussion rate of rugby players is far lower than football. They wear no padding or head protection, yet there are fewer concussions. The difference comes down to the technique. The tackling technique rugby players use is safer for the head and spine. There are some football coaches and teams that have adopted the rugby-style of tackling, but not all coaches believe it is practical for their team to follow suit.
Football requires a team to move the ball a minimum of 10 yards for a first down and they have four tries to do this. Each and every yard in a football game matters. Stopping an opponent from getting one more yard can make or break a game. Football players will dive head first into opponents crushing their neck, compressing their spine, and smashing their brain against the inside of their skull just to stop them from getting one yard. There is no first down in rugby, so there is nothing bad about giving up a couple yards. Rugby players can sacrifice yards and it will not affect the game. Not all rugby tackles involve tackler stopping the runner immediately. The runner will normally get another one to five yards during the tackle. The goal between the two games is to score at the end of the field, but it should not require players to destroy their brains in order to win the game.
In a rugby match, the attacking player will not try to squeeze every last inch out of a run because it will not greatly affect the game, and they do not want to risk getting injured. Football players need to push for the extra inches and get the most out of every play. The battle for that extra little bit can cause injuries and unsafe play. Although it may be dangerous at times, football players must hold the attacking team to the minimum amount of yards on every play. The tackling technique football players employ is to stop the runner as soon as possible, with them gaining the least amount of yards. This requires tremendous force to be output by the defender and does not always result in safe play. The risk of personal safety is a price that football players pay to be good athletes. If a player is giving up the slightest amount of yardage, they are not doing their job to the best of their ability. The Seattle Seahawks have adopted the rugby style of tackling, and they are one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Ohio State University Buckeyes have also adopted the rugby-style technique. Jeanna Thompson wrote an article on sbnation.com that reads, “Ohio State’s defense jumped from No. 47 in the country in 2013 to No. 19 the next year. In 2015, the Buckeyes boasted a top-10 defense, surrendering just 311.3 yards per game.” For any college football team to move up twenty-eight spots for defense is very difficult. The team attributed their success to the newly adopted tackling tehnique. A safer and more effective tackling method did not lose a collegiate football team any games.
When rugby players attempt to make a tackle, they are risking their body without padding, and are careful and follow the proper technique. Players risk gruesome injuries in a tackle that could be prevented by using proper technique. The rugby tackle is a wrap technique that is not aimed at stopping the attacker immediately but by safely stopping the attacker and keeping the defender in a safe position. It eliminates the use of the head in the tackle and does not force excessive pressure on the spine. Living With Sports Injuries, a book written by Elizabeth Shimer Bowers and Clifford D. Stark, reads, “Players frequently experience concussions, as well as neck and shoulder injuries, usually as a result of open field tackling.” Open field tackling typically results in high-speed collisions and poor technique. When an attacker is running full speed and the defender must make the stop, they will do it by any means necessary and not pay attention to technique. The lack of a safe technique often leads to injuries. The injuries that football players suffer from include fractured bones, dislocations, concussions, and “stingers”, the loss of feeling and inability to move the arm.
USA Rugby is the national governing body for rugby in the United States. They oversee national, collegiate, and high school teams. The organization is always working towards educating themselves and athletes to make the game more competitive and safe. A study done by USA Rugby compared concussions in collegiate rugby and collegiate football. Out of one thousand players in the study, an average of two percent of rugby players received concussions and four and a half percent of football players received concussions. Based on USA Rugby’s study, football’s concussion rate is more than double that of rugby’s. The rugby tackling technique is effective for tackling the player and keeping them safe.
Although the fate of a football game may be decided from a few yards, the impact of how players tackle can leave a mark on them forever. Football has a major concussion problem because of how the athletes tackle, and the false sense of security equipment gives them. Every inch matters to them, but not every brain cell. If careless tackling techniques continue to be utilized by football players, the sport may not exist due to the health hazards it poses.
The rugby style of tackling is much safer for the brain. Rugby players suffer from concussions and will continue to do so, but it is the fault of the tackler and the improper use of safe techniques. Players can be taught and encouraged to use the safest method of tackling, but they may continue to resort to easier approaches. Safe technique starts with the coaches not accepting laziness and dangerous tackling at practices, then it continues to the referees game-time decision to remove players or penalize a team. If football adopts the rugby-style tackling technique, it may result in the loss of a couple yards, or even the loss of a game. The sacrifice of losing one game can save a player the sacrifice of destroying their brain.
Stark, C. D., & Bowers, E. S. (2010). Living with sports injuries. New York: Facts On File.
Thomas, J. (2016, September 06). Rugby-style tackling could be the future of a safer NFL. Retrieved April 5, 2018, from https://www.sbnation.com/2016/9/6/12341916/nfl-rugby-tackling-concussions-seahawks-falcons