Concussions in Rugby and American Football: Which Sport is More Dangerous?
There are many similarities between rugby and American football. Both are team sports with millions of fans. Both games are played on a grass pitch, and players use their hands in both games. Unfortunately, another similarity between rugby and American football is that both sports are dangerous for players. Some estimates indicate at least one injury occurs for each game played.
Concussions in rugby and American football are particularly concerning. Typically caused by a blow to the head, concussions can cause painful short-term health problems such as dizziness, amnesia, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and fatigue. In most cases these symptoms clear up; however, a serious concussion can have long-term health conditions such as depression, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), cognitive impairment, and seizures. Concussions also raise the risk of early-onset dementia.
The Dangers of Rugby and American Football
At first glance, it would appear that rugby is the more dangerous sport. American football players wear sturdy helmets while rugby players may or may not wear a scrum cap. However, a close look at the stats reveals that concussions in rugby are a far less common occurrence than concussions in American Football.
One reason for this is that offensive players in American football have to look backwards over their shoulders to see the ball coming; thus, they are often unable to see the defensive player coming and prepare themselves for contact. Rugby players, on the other hand, can see both the ball and defensive players from the other team at the same time and thus prepare to be tackled. Another problem is that American Football players need to get the ball down the field in as few plays as possible. Even a yard or two can make a huge difference; thus, American football players tackle each other with more force than rugby players. Incidentally, the helmets players wear in order to prevent injury can also cause concussions. In fact, over 67% of concussions in American football occur as a result of impact from another player’s helmet.
This isn’t to say that rugby isn’t dangerous. While a concussion in rugby is less common than a concussion in American football, rugby players are at risk of experiencing spinal injuries due to scrums. In fact, more than one hundred rugby players in Britain alone have been paralysed due to spinal injuries received while playing rugby. Additionally, rugby players, like American football players, have to exert extreme force to acquire the ball and keep possession of it, and they do so without the safety gear used by American football players. Given this fact, it’s not surprising that some estimates state that there is a 90% chance a professional rugby player will be injured during a rugby game.
It’s difficult to state which sport is more dangerous, American football or rugby. However, it can be said for certain that both have their risks. A person playing rugby may be less likely to experience a severe brain injury than a person playing American football, but the risk of spinal injury is very real. American football may look safe due to the safety gear worn during the game, but football players are at high risk of concussion, caused in part by the very safety equipment worn to protect them from injury. While governing bodies for both sports have taken measures to protect players and provide medical care for players who are injured on the field, the nature of both games almost guarantees that rugby and American football players alike will experience on-the-field injuries for the foreseeable future.
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