Why do American Football Players Wear So Much Protective Clothing and Rugby Players don’t? (Find Out Now!)

Last Updated on October 4, 2023 by Alex PT

American football players wear extensive protective gear due to the sport’s high-impact nature and risk of serious injury. Rugby players use less gear because of rugby’s emphasis on tackling technique and avoiding head-on collisions.

Why do NFL players wear so much protective clothing and Rugby players don’t?

Why do NFL players wear so much protective clothing

1. Nature of the Game

American Football: The high-impact nature of the National Football League (NFL) demands extensive protective equipment. The sport involves aggressive tackles, often by large, heavily padded and fast-moving athletes. This fierce style of play increases the risk of serious injuries.

Rugby: Though Rugby is also a contact sport, its rules limit the points of contact between players. The players can only tackle around the waist and below, reducing the risk of head injuries.

2. Historical Precedence

American Football: American football evolved with a greater emphasis on player protection. In the early days, leather hats were used, which eventually progressed to plastic helmets. Over time, other protective layers have been added based on safety needs and technological advancements.

Rugby: Rugby evolved from a style of football played at Rugby School in England. The emphasis, even then, was on running with the ball rather than heavy contact and so less protection was needed. The lack of protective gear has been carried over by tradition.

3. Equipment Regulations

American Football: The NFL has specified mandatory equipment for players, including helmets, shoulder pads, thigh pads, and knee pads among others to minimize the risk of serious injury.

Rugby: The primary protective equipment approved by the International Rugby Board (IRB) includes mouthguards and light padding on the head, shoulders, and collar area.

4. Risk of Concussion

American Football: American football has a high rate of concussions due to its high-impact nature. The helmet, one of the most crucial pieces of a player’s kit, is designed to absorb the impact and limit the risk of brain injury.

Rugby: While rugby players are also at risk for concussions, the occurrence is relatively less. Moreover, the sport’s rules encourage safer tackling techniques, which further reduces the chances of head injuries.

5. Speed and Tactics

American Football: NFL games often involve high-speed collisions due to the speed at which players approach each other. This aspect necessitates the use of more protective clothing.

Rugby: Unlike American football, rugby involves a continuous flow of action. The emphasis is more on avoiding contact rather than making it, which limits the need for heavy gear.

Are American football and rugby the same sports?

No! The two sports are different and are played in different ways with completely different rules and regulations. How the NFL is designed is different with players getting little or no protection by the rules while Rugby is governed by rules that offer some amount of protection for its players. In the NFL, Features like blocking and forward passes often result in a very high-speed collision between players running at full speed. Rugby lacks such features as blocking players are not part of the rules of the game. In addition, forward pass is not allowed in Rugby and violent collision is not a usual occurrence as compared to NFL. Furthermore, both sports are different in gameplay, rules, amount of players, equipment, timing or duration of play, and substitutions.

Differences between American football and Rugby

AspectAmerican FootballRugby
Ball ShapeEllipsoid (prolate spheroid)Oval (symmetrical)
Forward PassingAllowedAllowed (but lateral passes)
TacklingBlocking and tacklingTackling (no blocking)
Protective GearHelmets, pads, and gearMinimal protective gear
Game DurationFour 15-minute quartersTwo 40-minute halves
ScoringTouchdowns, field goals, safetiesTries, conversions, penalties, drop goals
Possession RulesDowns system (four downs)No downs (continuous play)
SubstitutionsFrequent substitutionsLimited substitutions
Stoppage of PlayFrequent stoppages for playsFewer stoppages, continuous play
Field DimensionsSmaller, standardized fieldLarger, can vary in size
ScrumNot presentPart of the game (set piece)
Line of ScrimmagePresent, determines play startNot applicable in the same way
KickingPunting, placekickingKicking for touch, penalties
Forward Pass RulesMust cross the line of scrimmageNo forward passes allowed
GoalpostsH-shaped at the end of the fieldH-shaped at the goal line
InjuriesHigh-impact, injury-proneLower-impact, fewer injuries
Governing BodiesNFL (National Football League)World Rugby, national unions

Why don’t Rugby players wear protective gears like helmets?

Why don’t Rugby players wear helmets

Rugby players don’t wear helmets primarily due to the differences in the nature of the two sports and the rules governing player safety:

  1. Tackling Technique: In rugby, players are taught proper tackling techniques from a young age. They focus on using their shoulders and wrapping their arms around the opponent to bring them down safely. This emphasis on technique reduces the risk of high-impact head collisions.
  2. Reduced Use of Head: Rugby players understand that using their head as a point of contact is dangerous and can lead to injury. Therefore, they are less likely to initiate or accept head-to-head collisions during play.
  3. Continuous Play: Rugby is characterized by continuous play, with fewer stoppages than American football. Players must maintain awareness of their surroundings, making it important to avoid reckless head-first tackles.
  4. Culture of Safety: Rugby has a strong safety culture, with strict rules against dangerous play, including high tackles and tackles involving the head. These rules are enforced to protect players from injury.
  5. Limited Protective Gear: Rugby players wear minimal protective gear, typically consisting of a mouthguard and optional scrum caps (headgear). The absence of helmets encourages players to prioritize safe tackling techniques.
  6. Maintaining Tradition: Rugby has a long history and tradition of being played without helmets or extensive protective gear. Preserving this tradition is important to many within the sport.
  7. Reduced Risk Perception: Some studies suggest that the use of helmets can lead to a perception of reduced risk, potentially encouraging riskier playing styles. Rugby’s lack of helmets encourages players to prioritize safety over aggression.

What are the major similarities and differences between American football and Rugby?

NFL and Rugby are distinct sports played with different rules and strategies. In similarities, both sports share some terminologies and commence play with strict offside lines separating the two oppositions. However, the are differences in the way both sports are played and how the rules are applied. This table is a comparison chart highlighting several differences between the two sports.

American footballRugby
Played Worldwide, particularly in south Africa and New  Zealand.The major championship includes super 15, RFU, ITM cup, NAT league 1& 2, etc.
Played primarily in the United States and Canada.Players are allowed to wear protective gear like helmets, chest pads, and shoulder pads.
The number of referees is 3-6 with booth review.4 referees with the television match official as well as 2 assistant referees.
The duration of the game is 60 minutes in total.The normal duration time is 80 minutes, 40 minutes per half.
Team players are eleven per team.The team consists of 15 players for the union.
Players are allowed to wear protective wear like helmets, chest pads, and shoulder pads.Players are only allowed to wear modest padding on the head and shoulders, as well as a Mouthguard.
Unlimited substitution is allowed. Up to only seven substitutions are allowed.


We have a compiled list of frequently asked questions on why NFL players wear so much protective equipment and rugby players don’t. Let’s check them out!

What is the origin of Rugby and American football?

The origin of rugby is traced back to England in the 19th century. American football was developed from rugby and it was said that it was the British colonists from Canada who brought rugby to America.

What safety equipment are rugby players allowed to wear?

As a rule, No form of metal is allowed in any rugby kit. However, players are allowed to wear a Scrum cap and gum shield.

What are the rectangular bulges on the back of rugby players’ uniforms?

The bulge is a GPS tracker used as an essential tool to track players’ performance during games.

Final words

NFL is a collision sport and protective clothing is important as a  safety measure to enhance protection for its players. Rugby on the other hand is a contact sport and there are safety rules guiding the game to prevent injuries. 

We hope you find this article informative enough to answer all your queries about the article topic. If you have more questions, kindly reach out to us via the comment section.




Leave a Comment