Sassenach wrote:Also, some of the hits you get in NFL games are much bigger than what you see in rugby. The legality of the forward pass means you get situations where a receiver catches the ball in mid air and is then slammed to the ground from a height of about 8 feet. That never happens in rugby, where almost all passes are lateral and slightly backwards.
This is an excerpt from the Malcolm Gladwell article George posted (which was very well-written, as usual):
Football faced a version of this question a hundred years ago, after a series of ugly incidents. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt called an emergency summit at the White House, alarmed, as the historian John Sayle Watterson writes, “that the brutality of the prize ring had invaded college football and might end up destroying it.” Columbia University dropped the sport entirely. A professor at the University of Chicago called it a “boy-killing, man-mutilating, money-making, education-prostituting, gladiatorial sport.” In December of 1905, the presidents of twelve prominent colleges met in New York and came within one vote of abolishing the game. But the main objection at the time was to a style of play—densely and dangerously packed offensive strategies—that, it turns out, could be largely corrected with rule changes, like the legalization of the forward pass and the doubling of the first-down distance from five yards to ten. Today, when we consider subtler and more insidious forms of injury, it’s far from clear whether the problem is the style of play or the play itself.
Somewhat ironically, the rule changes they made back then, doubling the first-down distance and legalizing the forward pass, may have opened up the game, but have led to a lot of the big, open-field hits we see now.