Dr. Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota recently suggested that Minnesota high schools and colleges be weaned of tackle football and rugby based on the possibility of concussions (“No-brainer: No school football, rugby,” Jan. 24). He further suggested that heading be barred from soccer.
Miles is a recognized expert in bioethics and geriatric medicine. However, his jumbling together of three different versions of football and his blanket condemnation of them all is not based on any understanding of the sports in question.
First, let me agree with him that American football is a collision sport that encourages athletes to attack with their skulls causing damage to themselves and others. Second, heading in association football (soccer) requires athletes to regularly put their brains at risk. Third, I am surprised that he did not attempt to ban hockey, which seems to assume fighting blows to the head as a regular occurrence, or other ball sports, such as lacrosse or baseball or even cricket, for his blanket opprobrium.
I mention cricket because there were two deaths within three days in November, and because it is as strange a sport to most Americans as is rugby. When cricket is played properly, the chance of death is quite rare, just as a concussion in rugby is usually an accident, not a design flaw in the game.
Minnesota is seeing an upsurge in the popularity and success of rugby on the national stage. The St. John’s University Rugby Club is the two-time defending national champion in Division 3 (National Small College Rugby Organization) and will head to Denver to defend that championship in April. The University of Minnesota Duluth is the two-time defending Division 2 national champion. The Winona State women’s team won the Division 2 national championship this past year, and the Twin Cities Amazons won the Premier League women’s club nationals. And many other teams deserve mention.
These teams deserve our support. Any cursory review of the sport will reveal that rugby associations across the globe are aware of the possibility of concussions and are working hard to address them. It also will reveal that there are major differences between the proper approach to tackling in rugby and the usual practice in collision football.
While Miles may have a case against American collision football, he doesn’t know rugby. Ignorance is no excuse for phasing out a sport that, when played properly, is designed not to use the head as a lance but as the brain in a thinking man’s game.
J. Scott Johnson is a professor of political science at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., and is the faculty adviser for the school’s Rugby Football Club.