A “man’s” game. A game of violence with little to no protection. A game prided on tradition and a bit of European stubbornness. The game is rugby; with positions like props, hookers, flankers, and locks, who would expect anything but a bunch of strange individuals?
Of course, that is the perspective of the general American public, as rugby is not a popular sport on this side of the pond. However, there is a common link with “our” favorite sport and rugby – concussions. Although that is the tie that binds the two and all the fans, the approach about tackling this subject has been polar opposites.
While the NFL has made a bold move (and the correct move in my opinion) to address the issue with as much force as a James Harrison helmet-to-helmet hit, rugby and its international sanctioning body has merely tried to put a band-aid on a hemorrhage. Maybe window dressing would be a better description.
A quick search of what rugby has done for concussions seems on the surface to be a huge step, and more conservative than other sports, but when you really look at the effects of its suggestions, it makes the situation worse. The rugby community has said that any player with a concussion must sit out three weeks. Awesome, right? No, because players will not report the problem since they will be forced to sit out that long. Granted, that time would be sufficient for a majority of concussions in the sport, but with no compromise in the amount of time on the sidelines, it’s either you have a major problem, or no problem at all. The issue with that, is every concussion is a major problem, not only for the individual, but for the sport.
Taking rugby to task about concussions, in the places where it is a major sport, has been limited until now. The Irish Times has published a story about the growing concern in this sport, albeit a quiet groundswell.
IT HAS been described variously in recent times as a time bomb and the elephant in the room. The issue of concussion in rugby has come to the fore in Ireland especially in recent weeks thanks to the harrowing accounts of two recently-retired Leinster hookers, John Fogarty and Bernard Jackman, and profound concerns within the game and the medical profession that the sport is not as on top of this issue as it could be.
The secrecy is glaring in rugby when the possibility of looking weak is far more fear producing than being killed on the field.
In a recent interview, Fogarty – the well-travelled ex-Munster, Connacht and Leinster hooker who won his first cap on the summer tour at 32 but had to retire because of repeated concussions – admitted he had no idea of how many times he had suffered what he called “bangs on the head” during his career.
Now, Fogarty also revealed, he is suffering the consequences, be it blinding headaches, days on end in darkened rooms, fatigue and mood swings, and is resigned to having these symptoms for years.
“I had eight concussions last season alone,” writes Jackman in his autobiography Blue Blood. “It’s not something I ever admitted to the Leinster coaches and definitely not to our medical team. Like most of the other frontline forwards, I keep this information to myself as much as possible.”
For the group of people that think taking helmets out of football could reduce concussions, rugby has been without head gear from its inception, and more and more reliable statistics are starting to show that IS NOT THE CASE. Citing the bigger-stronger-faster athlete as the cause of more concussions, the Irish Times points out;
That concussion has become a bigger issue in rugby is also due to the way the game has changed. “If you look at the Ireland team of 30 years ago they look like college boys,” says Phillips. “Compare that to the game that was played in the Aviva the other day! It’s a high-impact, high-velocity game and participants are in danger of being concussed more readily. It’s a tribute to their skill and their strength and their athleticism that they are not being concussed more regularly.”
This story is groundbreaking in my estimation, and maybe one that will propel the Rugby Union to take a closer look at their stance and reactions to concussions.