Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

March 2, 2016 — Protection vs. common sense

In the argument over protecting young athletes from head injuries, there have been a number of incremental proposals from helmet mandates to outlawing headers in soccer.

Today came one of the silliest proposals in this debate: an open letter by 70 health professionals in the United States and the United Kingdom supporting the banning of tackling in the game of rugby.

Rugby is a game which is being introduced to the Olympics this year, in its 7-on-7 format. It is a game which does require contact, but unlike American football with its padding, rugby doesn’t have padding. But that goes with the fact that the kind of tackling found in rugby is much different from football’s version.

In American football, players are allowed to extend themselves into the body of a ball-carrier and hit the player like an uncoiled catapult. That’s not allowed in rugby; instead, a player looking to make a tackle must wrap up his or her opponent and drag the ball-carrier down to the turf.

It’s a low-impact technique, but one which the 70 signatories to the letter, addressed to a number of public officials in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Ireland, would seek to outlaw altogether.

Of course, as is the case with mandatory eyewear in field hockey and mandatory headgear in lacrosse, it is dubious whether any of the people pushing the idea have ever played the sport they are trying to regulate, or have any clue about how the sport is played.

That aside, however, the letter and its aims should actually be a clarion call and a cautionary tale to those who actually administer individual sports. Should groups of physicians — no matter how well-intentioned — be given carte blanche to regulate athletic competition?

I agree that it’s happening in American football when it comes to concussions. But what has to happen are rule changes to make tackling and contact safer.

After all, as former England Lion Matt Perry tells the BBC, “If you take the tackle out of rugby what have you got left?”


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