Gladiator Gear: The unintended consequences of protective equipment in gridiron football compared to rugby union
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Sports equipment has evolved over time to both enhance performance and reduce the injury risk. Protective equipment is particularly important in contact sports where injuries are frequent. In American and Canadian football, helmets and shoulder pads are two pieces of protective equipment that are strictly implemented to absorb hits of massive force to reduce the risk of head and upper body injuries respectively. While the risk of injury is reduced, the athlete's calculated perspective of risk might be altered. This change in risk equilibrium has the potential unintended consequence of the individual foregoing caution and playing in a faster and more aggressive style. This altered behavior not only increases the individual's own injury risk, but also puts other athletes who are on the receiving end of contact at greater risk. This displacement of risk is particularly dangerous when an athlete is hit in an area that is unprotected and vulnerable, or in an area where the equipment is not as effective as perceived. Drawing on existing research, theories of risk in sport, and qualitative interviews with 11 male, adult athletes who have competed in both football with significant protective equipment and rugby with minimal protective equipment, this study examines the relationships and potential disjuncture between sports equipment changes, athlete perceptions of injury risks, and actual injury risks. The purpose of this study is to compare physical contact, safety, and risk between the two high-contact sports, focusing on the different uses of mandated, protective equipment.