By Jim • 

Football is rough, but so are some other sports

Sometimes, Americans have a narrow view of the world — especially when it comes to sports.

Take our opinion of football, for instance. Most American sports’ fans consider football a real man’s sport, requiring a toughness that most sports don’t require. Hard blocking and tackling and high-speed collisions — these qualities, fans believe, give football status as the world’s top-notch contact sport even though players are protected by pads and helmets and a number of rules governing illegal hits and other examples of rough play.

But how about Australian rules football, where pads are almost non-existent and players wouldn’t be caught wearing headgear? High-speed collisions are also a feature of this sport, and bloody noses as well as bruises and broken bones are commonplace in a game where there are no face masks.

Or, how about the sport of rugby, big in the British Isles, several South Pacific Islands’ countries, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand as well as some areas in America and other spots around the world? Again, athletes are generally unprotected when it comes to safety gear, and to play the sport of rugby well, players have to be aggressive and fearless when it comes to bone-jarring hits.

But how about some of the sports popular in medieval times such as jousting where two knights, atop their steeds, lined up with lances, ready to charge with weapon extended toward the enemy. Sure, they wore protective gear covering the entire body (about 90 pounds worth, according to some authorities), but those lances weren’t covered by protective tips in real bouts. They were potentially deadly. A thrust in the right place (“wrong” place for the victim) could not only unseat an opponent and leave him groveling in the dirt but also penetrate the armor... and kill him. Yet, audiences loved the sport, and maybe even cheered a little louder when one of the riders went down in a crumpled heap with serious injuries.

So much for chivalry in the days of kings, queens, knights and fair ladies.

Or, how about base jumping, a sport where athletes climb steep rocky outcroppings to jump and soar through canyons close to rocks and trees before pulling a parachute cord and landing softly on terra firma? Or, if the jumper/flier is unlucky, smashing into an outcropping or unforgiving tree. As one base jumper said during a program on taking risks back in November in Tahoe, base jumpers who don’t have their act together, mixed with a bit of caution, don’t reach Social Security age. Now, that’s a tough sport since air speeds reach over 150 miles per hour.

Or, how about the gladiators back in Caesar’s time who were forced to fight each other to the death or take on wild animals in arenas before thousands of blood-thirsty Romans? Most of them weren’t around to collect on their 401Ks either, and few gladiators retired peacefully to the Italian countryside after glorious careers. It was kill or be killed in most cases.

So, is American football still the toughest sport in the history of contact sports, or should we give the nod to the Australians, Brits, Fijians (BIG rugby players, folks) or some ancient, forgotten civilization that competed in even tougher games? After watching a rugby game in Rarotonga in 1997 between the local Maori club, made up of small but quick players, and the huge Fijians, I’m kind of leaning in that direction since the tackling was super hard and the players were all exhausted after the game — or Australian football since the sport is high speed contact without pads and helmets. Watching Australian football several times on TV, I noted there were few players that weren’t nursing some kind of injury by the end of the contests.

In any event, football is probably America’s toughest contact sport, but be aware that fans of rugby, Australian football — and even hockey — wouldn’t agree with our assessment. And, after all, around much of the world, soccer is the original football.


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