Delmar resident and rugby player Michael Jones suffered a severe spinal cord injury at a rugby tournament in Florida on February 27, 2010. A neurosurgeon called his wife, Lisa DeStafo Jones, to tell her the shocking news. He said, “This is a Christopher Reeve-type of injury,” an article in the Times Union reported. At age 44, Jones was healthy and vibrant, still able to knock around with the younger rugby players. Now, he battles to win back the health of his spine and the use of his body at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey with his grieving wife and his daughter Liliana.
Football and hockey organizations and officials have recently introduced new rules and protocols for preventing, identifying, and treating head and neck injuries. Part of that shift in awareness required the disillusion of the idea that it is a sign of manliness or toughness to go on playing after an injury. Rugby, while it has evolved over recent years, still does not have any sport-wide regulations for spinal cord and/or traumatic brain injuries.
In South Africa, rugby officials have started the BokSmart safety program, according to an Eyewitness News article. The program requires all coaches and referees to be certified by BokSmart beginning in January 2011. According to the South Africa Rugby information page on BokSmart, “The primary aim of BokSmart is to provide rugby coaches, referees, players, and administrators with the correct knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities to ensure that safety and best practice principles are incorporated into all aspects of contact rugby in South Africa.”
Regardless of any changes of rules or protocols, training of coaches and referees, and attempts to make the game safer, part of what defines rugby is the toughness required by its players. No helmet and no pads have become a hallmark of the game and one of the main differences between rugby and football.
Rugby players from around the world have shown Michael Jones support the same way they might during a game. “Low and tight, Brother Jones! Low and tight. Keep on pushin’ the pack is with you. All good stuff to you,” one supporter wrote. Another said, “JonesyStoke the fire my friend. Use your strong heart and passion to keep going forward. You’ve got a strong pack in support…and backs too!” according to the Times Union article. We wish Michael Jones a full recovery.