Rugby players or American footballers? That age old question of which should hold the mantle of the toughest sportsmen out there? This is an on-going debate with strong arguments for both sides so here’s my, rather simplified, view on the debate which addresses some of the key areas.

The first, and perhaps most distinguishable difference between the two sports is the equipment utilised in playing the sport, a simple comparison evident in the image below.

1As we can see, the American football player dons himself in more padding than a room in a mental ward. American footballers have been lambasted for their seemingly excessive kit but all jokes aside the physical strain involved in American football suddenly seem to justify the padding. Jim McKenna, a professor of physical activity and health at Leeds Metropolitan University, has highlighted the elevated risk of head, neck and spinal injuries amongst American footballers due to their missile like tackles in which they are often seen to literally butt the opposition in head first tackles. This no holds barred tackling has seen over 4000 cases been brought against the NFL due to injuries sustained. Of course, there is an argument to be had here about bravery/toughness against stupidity but it is difficult to deny that it takes a brave/stupid/badass guy to launch yourself at a 100kgs+ wall of meat and body armour.

2In comparison, our rugby player should feel relatively naked with the mouth guard being the only essential piece of protective equipment. Ok, I know some will rush to point out the scrum cap however, the scrum cap is neither essential nor worn by the majority; it consists of a light thin padding and, unlike the solid plastic footballers’ helmet, offers very limited protection hence the regular bloody faces. However, where rules on tackling in football are nearly absent, rugby is a bit more restrictive with spear tackles being a one way ticket to the sin bin or even a red card *insert dramatic music*. However, this doesn’t mean rugby players are any less tough or likely to incur injury. The average impact a player takes, in a match now, is like being hit by a truck at 75mph. This might explain why 110 rugby players have been paralysed due to an injury incurred in the game.

Although the tackles might be bigger over the pond this does not win American football the title. Our source, at, offers an informative little statistical comparison that shows that American football recorded its highest tackle impact at a whopping 4600lbs where the average for rugby is a seemingly meagre 1600lbs. However, the average number of received tackles per game for an American footballer is 4 compared to a massive 16 in rugby. If we take the average number of tackles and multiply it by the aforementioned pounds of impact, even using footballs biggest as an average, it comes out with the American footballer taking up to 18,400lbs in a game compared to a rugby player’s 25600lbs!

Equipment and tackles aside it is worth while looking at the individual sportsman. The image below compares a few key areas that these sportsmen have in common.

3Looking at these it would seem that the debate might tip in favour of the American footballer; they are taller, can bench press over 200lbs, weigh 50lbs more and are only 0.2 seconds slower over 100m. Yet the rugby player is not down and out. If, like myself, you have tried watching the Super Bowl, and become quickly frustrated with how stop and start it is, perhaps what seems the most shocking stat up there, the distance covered in a game, is not so shocking after all. It’s all good and well that Holliday might be on Habana’s heels in a school sports day race, but when Holliday covers a miniscule 190 meters compared to Habana’s 6999.15 meters it makes all those other stats seem a little less impressive.

Finally, and although nothing really to do with who is tougher, I still have to comment on the pay differential. As we can see, an American footballer earns a wage comparative to our other favourite overpaid ‘sportsmen’ with over inflated perceptions of their own self-worth, not that I am subtly referencing any particular game. As if the similarities with that sport aren’t bad enough would you look at who’s a fan.