To Tackle or Not: That is the Question


Rugby Sports Med panel (L to R): Drs. Kerr, Gerber, Viljoen, Cantu, Akhavan, Mjaanes, Landry

There is an ever-increasing debate on both sides of the Atlantic regarding contact and collision sports for youth.  In particular, the issue of tackling (whether in rugby or American football) is in the cross-hairs of many.  I’ve written about this recently after Dr. Bennet Omalu, the subject of the movie ‘Concussion’ and the pathologist who first described CTE in an American professional football player, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times arguing that contact football should be banned in those under age 18 [‘Don’t Let Kids Play Football’].

My impetus for this blog post is two-fold: 1) I am currently attending a rugby sports medicine conference, where the issue of tackling and brain injury is a ‘hot topic’ for discussion; 2) the issue of tackling in youth rugby has exploded after recent events in the UK.

USA Rugby sports medicine hosts a conference each year around this time, and this year there was a panel of experts who entertained the question: when should youth athletes take up contact/collision sports?  There was a variance of opinion and a recognition that more research needs to be done to give an informed answer to this question.

In the background, occurring in the ‘real world,’ this same question was being debated in the media and social media after a group approached the UK government asking for a ban on tackling in youth rugby. The Sport Collision Injury Collective (@sportcic on Twitter) circulated a petition signed by 70 academics asking that touch rugby only be taught to schoolboys in the UK [“Our message is simple: Prevent injury, remove contact.  Replace contact with touch in school rugby.”]

The media response has been vigorous:  check out these stories from the BBC and the Guardian.  Opinions have come from players, parents and coaches as well as physicians  [the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health wrote a response to this proposal ] and sports scientists.

This is an important and healthy debate, one where I find most if not all stakeholders have the health and welfare of our youth foremost in mind as we try to gather more information and make decisions now, the ramifications of which may not be seen for years to come.

And so, I thought I would use this blog as one more platform where concerned folks could weigh in on their opinion of this question. Take the poll below,* ** follow the links above, and engage in the discussion which is taking place in the media.

*There have been many ages proposed for initiation of contact in youth sports, ranging from age 10 to 18.  For the purposes of the poll, I have tried to give a variety of options, though I recognize the choices are not exhaustive.

**I have intentionally given poll takers the option for a limited number of answers, recognizing that there is room for many more (e.g. ‘we need more information’, ‘yes, allow contact, but we need to reduce the amount kids get’, ‘football and rugby are different, and my answers would be different for each sport’ etc.)

About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

3 Responses to To Tackle or Not: That is the Question

  1. roboh98 says:

    Thanks for the debate. Here’s another article from the economist.

    I am a little wary of those sports that promote head injury as a legitimate method for “winning.” Such as: boxing, mixed martial arts. To me that’s a no-brainer…

    But for other sports, the question becomes much more difficult to answer. As we learn more about head injury and its effects on the developing and developed brain, there will be a lot more debate on how some sports…football, rugby, hockey, etc should modify the game to help protect the noggins’ of their players.

    This is a healthy debate. Thanks SportingJim!

    • sportingjim says:

      thanks for those thoughts, and thanks for that editorial — always like the Economist’s perspective

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