Tomorrow (Sunday) is the day when the Super Bowl is played, when much of America gathers around their TVs to watch the game and/or the commercials and/or the halftime show. I will not be among them, having sworn off the game because of the accumulating evidence of the serious brain damage that the players are risking. I think that while adults can choose to take such risks, it is immoral for schools and universities to encourage young people to do so and they should remove it from the list of activities.
I used to think that rugby was safer because only the ball carrier can be tackled, making the number of collisions per player per game fewer. Also, that sport does not have the ‘protective’ gear that American football has that makes players think that they are less likely to get injured and thus paradoxically increases risks by encouraging them to make bone-jarring tackles. The padding and helmet may prevent the breaking of bones but does not prevent the whiplash effects on the head and neck that occurs every time one is tackled
But it seems that I should not have been so sanguine about rugby being safer. In France four players, two of them professionals, died within a period of eight months, which is an astoundingly high number. It is being attributed to the fact that players are getting bigger, stronger, and faster leading to more high impact tackles. Another problem is that fans seem to want to see crashing tackles and players and teams are responding to it. A neuroscientist in the linked video above says that the rugby injuries they see are like those in car accidents before seatbelts and airbags were introduced.
There are calls to make rugby safer by trying to encourage movement of the ball and placing restrictions on tackling. Meetings are being convened by rugby authorities to find out what might be done. In soccer, one could ban heading the ball, which is the leading source of brain damage, and maybe similar restrictions could be envisaged for rugby.
I think there is only so much that can be done in ‘gladiator sports’ like American football and rugby where collisions seem to be an integral part of the game, not incidental like in basketball. One can only hope that over time, they will acquire the same stigma as boxing and people will not want to watch it as much, though the rise in popularity of mixed-martial arts is not encouraging. It seems like there are enough people who get pleasure in watching people batter each other and these sports are a way of sanitizing that desire.