Rugby is regarded around the world as a high intensity, physical, and challenging sport. In the United States, it is regarded as a barbaric, un-regulated, and foolish sport. This misconception comes from the widely inaccurate notion that concussion among other injuries is inevitable in the sport. Rugby is beginning to take hold in high schools across the countries, and young adult athletes are the first generation to bring this internationally recognized sport to America. The idea of rugby being not safe however has also leaked into adolescent athletes.
Students’ choice to play rugby in high school is being influenced negatively due to wrong perception permeating from the media that it leads to severe head injuries. The human brain is surprisingly delicate, comprised only of soft tissue, for the amount of work it performs; however, it does have a system by which it protects itself from injury. The skull is the hard bone casing that surrounds the brain and contains spinal fluid which allows the brain to inherently float. This prevents the majority of shock and impact injury form actually affecting the brain.
When the head sustains a blow causing the brain to be struck by the skull, the brain becomes bruised. This bruising is called a concussion. A study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information insert citation here focused on the impact multiple head injuries, concussions, had on high school student athletes. Students with no prior concussions, one prior concussion, and two prior concussions were all given baseline cognitive assessments and were then compared.
Of those tested, athletes with a history of concussion experienced more “cognitive problems, physical symptoms, and sleep problems at the time of pre-season baseline evaluation than those with no history of concussions. ” Citation. Concussion in high school athletes is a large problem for their well being, and athletes who participate in contact sports are extremely susceptible to concussion. Many sports in which tackling and physicality are integral components provide padding and helmets, reducing the chance of injury.
Rugby, while consisting of the same amount and intensity of physicality, has rules making any padding over one-fourth of an inch thick illegal. Commonly, the only form of protection utilized by athletes is a mouth guard. Due to this lack of protection, injury is very prevalent in rugby, specifically concussions, which are the most common injuries sustained by high school athletes playing rugby. Extensive research has been conducted regarding what injuries are inflicted on athletes who play high school rugby, and the frequency of each type of injury.
Insert citation for Injuries sustained by high school rugby players in US 2005-2006 JAMA Pediatrics The head is the most common place to sustain an injury, with twenty-one percent, followed by the ankle, thirteen percent, and the shoulder, twelve percent. Clearly the head is at the greatest risk of injury. Among common injuries, concussion is the second most prevalent, fifteen percent of all injuries in rugby are concussions. Over half of all of the injuries sustained in rugby are directly due to tackling and being tackled while playing in a match.
Compared to similar sports, football and hockey, rugby is actually as safe as, or safer, in terms of injuries sustained per 1000 playing hours. This is explained in enter citation of concussion in youth rugby union and rugby league: a systematic review. In rugby, concussions are sustained on average between five to fourteen times for every 1000 playing hours. Dr. Clay Seiple, a sports medicine physician practicing in Hudson Ohio, was interviewed for his take on the relevance of concussion in rugby.
When asked about the difference between concussion rate in contact sports, he commented that “Rugby, football and soccer are all about the same as to their rates of concussions” (Seiple). In his years of practicing sports medicine, Dr. Seiple agrees with the data supporting the claim that rugby is as safe as other contact sports. Rugby is not inherently a more dangerous sport; the danger lies in not following standard safety protocol during matches. There are very clearly set rules on how to safely be physical in rugby, and how to correctly wear the appropriate padding and equipment to prevent concussion.
Safety is a very big priority in rugby. Data supports the fact that World Rugby makes a substantial effort to limit the amount of injury in the sport, despite the lack of pads. World Rugby is the governing body of professional rugby, and sets the precedent for all smaller and non professional clubs around the world. Yearly, a handbook is released detailing any and all regulations in the sport of rugby, including the appropriate padding and equipment that is to be worn. Firstly, mouth guards are worn.
Although a small piece of rubber may not seem like any amount of protection against a concussion, the rubber actually is able to absorb a substantial amount of each blow. It protects the tackler and person being tackled from the shock reaching their brain, and subsequently causing concussion. The mouth guard is commonly the only equipment worn by high school athletes, and is thus the greatest protection from concussion. Another piece of equipment on average one out of fifteen high school athletes wear is known as a scrum cap.
Fashioned like a helmet, but made up of one quarter inch thick flexible padding, the scrum cap is worn on a player’s head. The most common use of a scrum cap is to ease a player’s discomfort while in the scrum, a set piece in rugby which often exerts high pressure on the head. Padding is allowed over the entire body, with the stipulation that it must be no more than one quarter inch thick. In addition to the availability of padding and safety equipment, the technique and form used by all rugby players during any form of contact is highly regulated to ensure safe gameplay.
Safe tackling is very thoroughly reinforced in rugby. Tackling a player above the mid-chest range is illegal causing nearly all contact to occur below the waist. When tacklers approach a player low and controlled, it allows for a safe method by which to bring the tackled player to ground. In addition to illegal high tackles, the tackler must fully wrap their arms around the player they are tackling and take him to ground. When a tackler wraps the falling player and accompanies him to ground, it forces the tackler to account for his own safety as well, often causing a more controlled tackle.
Thirdly, the sir, or referee, has full discretion over when to stop a scrum, ruck, or maul, which are the most common set pieces in rugby that consist of heavy contact. If anyone at any time feels that the play is becoming unsafe, the sir stops the game and resumes once the matter has been resolved. Contrary to what most people believe, rugby is a regulated sport with guidelines in place to enable players to emerge from their full season unharmed. The remaining issue with students joining rugby lies in their misunderstanding of these facts.
Michael Pollan describes the concept of sustainability in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Sustainability is the idea that everything must have a healthy cycle that ensures its entity will remain alive. This can be applied to any aspect of life, from economics to cooking. Rugby requires the ideals of sustainability as well in order to become a prominent component in America’s high school sport field, as well as survive as a sport. A hindrance to the sustainability of rugby is student athletes’ perception of the sport and the injuries associated with it.
Concussions and similar injuries are a significant deterrent for students wanting to join the sport. Many are frightened by the possibility of irreversible brain damage, despite the data declaring that a highly unlikely outcome. The false idea that rugby is an extremely dangerous activity with no regulation to prevent injury scares away potential players. In a survey that I conducted, high school age athletes were questioned about their knowledge or experience with rugby and concussions, the findings showed that three out of every four were unaware that rugby has a lower concussion rate than similar contact sports.
Another reported trend revealed more than half were not aware that rugby is a safe contact sport (Richey). At Hudson High School, the location of the survey, the rugby club is not a school sponsored sport, due to the lack of school awareness and participation. With similar situations occurring across the country, rugby will not be properly sustained; whereas similar contact sports are being funded and advertised, rugby will remain an after thought to student athletes nationwide.
Despite this assumed outcome, recent data suggests that despite the misunderstanding of concussion in rugby, the number of rugby clubs and teams has grown drastically since its inception in the United States. Between 2003 and 2004 the number of boys rugby clubs in the US increased from 429 to 492, a staggering fifteen percent increase. Women’s high school clubs also grew from 96 to 126, a growth of thirty-one percent. Since then rugby clubs and enrollment has continued to increase, with an average yearly growth of fourteen percent.
The contradiction between those surveyed and the continued growth of the sport can most likely be attributed to rugby’s appeal as a foreign, unique, and internationally respected sport. Student athletes do however choose other sports over the intrigue of rugby simply to this misconceived notion that they are safer. The selection of sports in American high schools is varied, yet most provide the same experience for athletes. They differ in rules, number of players, and strategy, but the inherent team experience, athletic challenge, and dedication to a cause can be found in any sport.
Often, high school athletes are not interested in playing only on particular sport, but rather the prospect of many new experiences for them to try. Dr. Seiple, throughout his ten years as a sports medicine physician, has seen a trend of students choosing other non contact sports or activities rather than rugby to avoid concussion. He commented on that correlation in an email interview I conducted with him I have seen…a rugby player decide that taking the risk of playing a contact sport, where concussions are common, is not worth the risk of permanent disability.
They have quit and moved on to other sports or other things like music, etc. (Seiple) The idea of receiving a concussion is weighing so heavily on the mind of student athletes that they are actively choosing other activities in order to protect themselves. Unfortunately, they remain unaware that rugby is an extremely safe and regulated sport, with a high regard for the well being of each student athlete participating. The stigma attached to rugby being a highly dangerous and concussion prone activity is a fallacy, and yet still influences students.
This idea has been slowly secreted by the media since rugby lost popularity in the beginning of the twentieth century. T. V. shows, magazines, and newspapers detail the horrors of rugby matches. They fail, however, to correctly report on injury rate, and dramatize the vulnerability of rugby players. This cultural trend against rugby inadvertently affects high school athletes, and many simply do not realize that they can participate in the sport they want while enjoying protection from concussion.
The idea of unavoidable injury in rugby built slowly in America due to the absence of the sport, and the lack of knowledge about the sport. The prevalence of concussion in rugby is a threat to the athletes devoting their time to this sport, however it is not any more likely to cause injury than other contact sports. The stigma attached to it then must be directly related a miseducation on rugby and its practices. Membership in the sport continues to rise, and in order to maintain sustainable growth, education must grow as quickly as the sport itself.