Football The Most Violent Sport? Not Even Close

By Jeremy Hritz

Last Wednesday night, the legendary and venerated former Steeler Terry Bradshaw made an appearance on the Jay Leno Show and gave his two cents regarding the topic of concussions and how it will impact the game of football. Quote Bradshaw, “There will be a time in the next decade when we will not see football as it is…. The contact sports will fade away.” Bradshaw also stated, similar to Kurt Warner several weeks ago, that if he had sons, he would not allow them to play football.

While Bradshaw’s views are understandable, his predicted decay of the game because of its physical nature is absurd.

There are many things being overlooked when it comes to concussions and football.

For whatever reason, it seems to be the only sport being hammered over concussions. Football isn’t even the most violent sport. What amazes me is that sports such as boxing, MMA, and rugby have not received any attention for concussions. Regardless of any argument, nobody will ever be able to argue that football is more violent or dangerous than any of these three.

At least in football, players wear protective equipment, and with quality coaching, they are taught proper technique so as to avoid injury. Sadly, due to the tremendous popularity of the NFL and its moneymaking prowess, every concussion-related issue is magnified and exacerbated.

In boxing, participants repeatedly punch each other in the head and body, where as MMA combatants enjoy the luxury of employing kicks and brutal submission holds. And rugby is nearly the equivalent to football except that its players do not wear pads. Where is the outrage or condemnation of these sports, all of which are 100 times as violent and dangerous? To make things more ridiculous, youngsters between ages eight and ten compete in Junior Olympic Boxing.

Where is the outrage about this?

The ultimate reality is that injuries can occur in any sport, as they are simply an inherent risk in competitive activity. Proactively, the NFL and other levels of competition in football are taking the necessary steps to make it a safer game, and while it will never be risk-free, making changes based on new research will help to make it as safe as it possibly can be.

Bradshaw is afraid of one or two consequences: a) as the game is made safer, it will lose its appeal, b) the negative attention garnered from football-related concussions will drive people away from playing the game.

While both of these are valid concerns, would legends and veterans of the NFL passively allow the league to become watered down to the point where it resembled nothing more than flag football? And Bradshaw makes the assumption that families everywhere would not want their children to play football for fear of concussions or injury, but changes to the game are protecting players more. And isn’t everything that we do accompanied by some sort of risk? The number of fatalities as a result of car accidents is staggering, yet we do not see families prohibiting their children from driving.

If anything, the sport of football will continue to grow and expand in future years, and exceed the popularity it has already achieved. And with all due respect to basketball, baseball, and soccer, nothing will be able to match the intensity of the 60-minute game that truly is America’s passion. Sorry Terry, but the only fading we’ll see from the NFL will be by a receiver in the end zone.

  • Daveb1952

    IMO, a lot of concussions are caused by the very equipement designed to protect against them. If proper technique tackling was taught, head to the side, shoulder slightly below the waist, wrap arms around, lift and drive, yoiu could go back to leather helmets with no face masks.

  • Barney_Fife

    AGREE 90%, except you left over the simple law of physics: 250 lb guy charging at you at 25mph helmet to helmet or into your jaw… moment, E equals MC squared.

  • AndyR34

    Jeremy…how can you say rugby is 100 times more violent than football???? What is the basis for that statement? Have you ever played? I have played both sports and you are flat out wrong! Rugby is actually less violent, not more. But you wouldn’t know that would you? You have lost all credibility as a writer.

  • SteelersDepot

    How do we know you played both? You have lost all credibility as a commenter.

  • SteelersDepot

    My 14 YO son just got a concussion playing soccer (collision w another player’s upper body and then the ground)…doing the research afterwards, I’ve come to learn the concussion rate in soccer is the same as football, roughly 2% of all injuries.



    Force equals mass times acceleration.

  • Hockey has a big concussion outcry too, but that is more because of targeted headshots than hi speed collisions.

  • SteelerDave

    I allowed my son to get into boxing once he turned 14. He trained for six months then had his first fight. At those ages the matches are only three rounds. In round three my son unleashed on the other boy and knocked the kid out cold with a concussion and that boy spent the night in the hospital. Afterwards at the next tournament I had a half dozen coaches approach me and my son asking to coach him and take him to tournaments to fight for their gyms. My son declined and forfeited his fight that night. He did not want to injure another kid like that again and he left boxing.

    So yes, kids as young as eight do box and despite protective gear they do get hurt and do get concussions. Boxing is definitely more dangerous than football.

    My son then went on to play high school football as a middle linebacker and he was tough as nails but he was never the direct cause of anyone being injured that he was aware of. He learned proper techniques and kept himself of aware of hitting someone helmet to helmet. However, sometimes helmet to helmet contact does occur by random circumstance.

    We then traveled to London to visit friends and my son learned to play some rugby with other teens in the area during our stay. Rugby is not as violent as football but the lack of pads leads to a higher injury rate.

  • Beard

    Boxing is a dying sport. I am a fan of boxing but you can see it with the lack of big name talent and the corruption in the sport (see Pacquiao decision and the lack of a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight). Fans just don’t care any more. All of that boxing market is going to MMA. MMA is obviously the most violent of the sports mentioned, but I don’t think that we will see a large number of young participants in MMA. Just a large number of viewer (or I should say an increasing number of viewers). Rugby is very popular in other areas of the world, but it won’t ever be popular in the US. There is only room for so many sports and the big three sports dominate. Then it becomes a question of soccer or hockey coming in next. As BGINTN mentioned in his post, there has been a recent outcry over the number of soccer concussions for younger players — from collisions and from “heading” the ball.

    The key thing with football is that there is too much money and too much popularity for it to die. I think the biggest thing we will see is improvements in the manufacturing and material used to make helmets. That being said if I had kids I would much rather they play baseball or basketball or tennis. That may be bad for your knees or legs, but it won’t mess with your memory. I love watching football and I hope my kids do too. But that doesn’t mean I have to encourage them to play football. It doesn’t make me (or them) less of a fan.

  • Avoid Lloyd

    You’re mostly correct, and I also hate that they’re taking the violence out of football. Boxers take an incredible amount of punishment to their heads for a period of several years, and you can see the toll it takes on their speech and cognitive abilities as they get into their 40’s.

    But where is the outcry against MMA? Really? MMA isn’t even legal in NY state. There is a ton of opposition to it. AND it isn’t as bad for your body as football, not even close. I’m guessing by the “brutal” submissions comment that you aren’t very versed in the sport and were directing your comments more in the direction of “football is fine”, which I can agree with.

  • Ryan Watson

    hey andy, shut up.

    I played rugby regularly when I was younger.


    unlike you who crawls behind his helmet looking for redemption of a poor life

  • Noorrrmmmm

    Gee, rugby games are longer than football games, involve a lot more actual endurance and running, and have 30 players on the field as opposed to 22. I wonder why there are more injuries? Hmmm.

    Also look at the injuries and see what percentage are concussions. You can’t expect to take on people head to head because you don’t have a helmet. You must learn to tackle correctly or you’ll be spending a lot of time out of the game. There are a lot of other injuries because of the number of tackles, scrums, and rucks each game. But in my experience, I’ve actually seen more major injuries in ultimate frisbee then in rugby (this is strictly for the men’s clubs in my area). Ultimate has a lot of knees, shoulders, and achilles injuries for a non-contact sport.

  • Pete

    Bradshaw makes good points. We’ve all seen football deteriorate before our very eyes and I don’t believe the changes will stop. Rugby is very violent and they are looking at concussions also. More than a decade ago I read a study that professional soccer players suffer brain damage from heading the ball. This brain damage is cumulative over a career. None of these sports have changed the game to reduce brain trauma. Football is slowly becoming flag football.

    The other comment Bradshaw said that you didn’t mention was that “he knew what he was signing up for” and that he “would do it all again, absolutely” even with his current knowledge of the effects of multiple concussions. This brings up the points of Harrison and Greg Lloyd who have said the same thing.

    The bottom line is that the league is trying to proactively protect itself from lawsuits instead of providing meaningful medical coverage for former players. Greg Lloyd hit the nail on the head. He said you wouldn’t see all these lawsuits if the league just took care of the players after they retired. I agree it’s mostly a money grab by most of the plaintiffs involved but the NFL brought it on by being selfish.

    While football itself will not fade away, Bradshaw is quite right that if they continue down the path they’ve taken, the NFL will radically change the game as we’ve known it and it will end up looking very different. What do they care anyway, as long as there are 10 touchdowns per game and lots of women and children are watching every Sunday?

  • Wdmason

    I agree boxing is a dying sport. I remember as a kid huddled around the radio with my father listening to 22 year old Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston. Those days are long gone and may never return.

    Im afraid NFL football is headed down the same path. I see Harrison getting suspended again this year and the Ryan Clark hits we know and love will be nonexistant. Gone will be the Donnie Shell players of football and I think its a cryin shame..

    And of course there is outrage against the MMA and its not on the same level as the NFL and never will be. Just as the days of the Roman Colliseum have ended, so will the hard hitting game of football unless this man is stopped.

  • fire arians

    boxing / mma is definitely more violent. in football, they’re trying to score points. In combat sports, the other guy is trying to take you out. i played football in HS, and also trained in MMA (kickboxing/muay thai/jiu jitsu), and MMA was by far the most intense sport as far as the punishment you’re putting your body through

  • mghjr88

    Hockey players are moving much faster than participants in other contact sports like football. If football was played on ice with skates, then it would probably be the most dangerous sport.

    Imagine sacrificing your body in front of a 100+mph slap shot with little arm/torso/leg/feet protection and typically ZERO face protection

  • mghjr88
  • David O

    I normally agree with most of your opinions but your opinions on rugby are way off. The lack of protective equipment is exactly what makes rugby safer than football. The lack of a helmet means that rugby players use shoulder tackles – the way football players were taught to tackle years ago. They rarely make initial contact with the head as football players do. Take a person with no protective equipment and one with helmet and pads – then have them tackle a brick wall as hard as they can – the person in all the protective equipment is likely to hit the wall full tilt since they imagine (incorrectly) that the protective equipment will prevent injury. The player without the protective equipment is going to let up and likely make initial contact with their upper arm rather than their head and involuntarily let up just prior to impact.

  • Kevin G

    They should just make players sign a contract saying they understand all the injury’s possible and your playing at your own risk

  • alitis48

    Jeremy … you may be right about boxing and MMA but no way that rugby players cop head shots to anywhere the same degree as NFL players.
    In rugby only the player with the ball is allowed to be blocked or tackled. …There are no scrimmage lines in rugby. Head tackles get reported and lead to sendoff with a penalty or future game suspension. In Australian Rugby League , the top professional league in the world, even an accidental slide of an arm to the neck or head will usually lead to a penalty.