As the NFL scrambles to deal with a concussion crisis threatening to unravel the game, there’s an alternative to American football coming. The US is gettings its first-ever professional rugby league.
Six teams will compete in Professional Rugby Organization, or PRO Rugby, from April 2016. The season will feature 10 games per club, running from April to July. The new professional league hopes “to inspire Americans to fall in love with rugby, and to show the rugby world what American players can do,” USA Rugby chairman Bob Latham said in a statement.
Though the US Eagles came away without a single win during the rugby World Cup, rugby union officials are keen to capitalize on the global success of the tournament and are investing in so-called second tier nations to raise the competitiveness of the sport. One factor that is fuelling the game’s growth is safety.
Rugby has been dubbed as the safer alternative to its American counterpoint, with NFL coaches incorporating elements of rugby into their game. The Seattle Seahawks released a video earlier this year, promoting its new approach to tackling involving taking “the head out of the game.” Unlike football, where players tackle headfirst, rugby players are taught to keep their head behind the ball carrier and hit with their shoulders.
Officials describe rugby as the fastest-growing sport in America, but Allyson Pollock, a professor of public health at Queen Mary University, isn’t convinced rugby is safer than football. “They are both collision sports and both dangerous,” she tells Quartz. “Concussion is frequent and common in both sports and we need to understand the long-term impact.” While rugby is yet to suffer a similar concussion crisis, spinal injuries from rugby are still a concern.
Can rugby really make a dent in a nation as football-mad as the US? Any decline in football’s popularity may seem implausible right now, but the same was said about boxing several decades ago. Now, the brutal sport is fading away. Could football be next?