The evidence of damage done to the brains of American football players continues to pile up. So far, not much attention has been focused on the effects of playing on rugby and soccer players. In soccer, it is heading the ball that can cause serious jarring of the brain. In rugby, players are forbidden from certain types of tackles that use or target the head. They are also not as heavily padded and helmeted as in American football and this was thought to discourage dangerous tackles using the head as a battering ram. But they can still be subjected to jarring and bone-crushing tackles as can be seen in this video.
A lawsuit by former international rugby players argues that they suffered brain damage because of the game.
Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson and seven other former players claim the sport has left them with permanent brain damage – and are in the process of starting a claim against the game’s authorities for negligence.
Every member of the group has recently been diagnosed with the early signs of dementia, and they say repeated blows to the head are to blame.
Thompson, 42, played in every England match when they won the 2003 World Cup, but says: “I can’t remember any of those games. It’s frightening.”
All eight players to have come forward so far have been diagnosed by neurologists at King’s College, London, with early onset dementia and probable Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
While the spectators see just the jarring collisions in competitive games that they think cause the injuries, there are many, many more such collisions that occur in practices and it is the cumulative effect of all these mini-concussions that can cause problems.
Thompson is convinced constant head knocks during matches and training are to blame.
“When we first started going full-time in the mid-1990s, training sessions could quickly turn into full contact,” he said.
“There was one session when the scrummaging hadn’t gone quite right and they made us do a hundred live scrums. When it comes to it, we were like a bit of meat, really.
“The whole point of us doing this is to look after the young players coming through. I don’t want rugby to stop. It’s been able to give us so much, but we just want to make it safer. It can finish so quickly, and suddenly you’ve got your whole life in front of you.”
In soccer, eliminating heading of the ball may solve the problem in their sport. It is not clear what can be done in football and rugby to eliminate these concussive blows without changing the support in significant ways. I suspect that many fans of rugby will be like their counterparts in American football and oppose any changes that reduce the number and intensity of these bone-jarring and brain-damaging tackles because they actually like seeing them. I used to enjoy watching rugby and football but ever since learning about the danger of CTE, I can no longer stomach doing so. Every time I see a hard tackle, my mind thinks of the player’s brain getting shaken around in their skull. It is not a pleasant image. I could not even watch more than a bit of the above video clip.
You cannot stop adults from engaging in self-destructive behavior. But I think it is high time that there be no sports leagues in these sports for those under (say) 21 years of age when their brains are still in the formative stages of development. Schools and colleges should also eliminate these sports entirely. Those institutions should be in the business of educating young people, not damaging their brains.