Friday, March 29, 2013

The Hidden Dangers of Rugby

       The liability waiver is a document every rugby player and coach must read and agree to in order to play rugby on any level, high school, college or club in the United States.  It is a part of registering for USA Rugby.  Signing this waiver is a part of “cipping” or Club and Individual Participation Program.  Being a member of USA Rugby provides a member with liability and accident coverage for incidents that occur during sanctioned events. The accident policy is an “excess accident medical policy” with a $1500 deductible if you have primary insurance and a $3000 deductible if you are uninsured.  Due to the aggressive nature of rugby, it is easy to understand why USA Rugby would feel it necessary to have potential members sign this waiver.  However, this document is written at a nineteenth grade level, and is incomprehensible to most, if not all, rugby players and coaches.  The liability waiver uses many examples of the Official Style, such as complex sentence structure, including many, appositives, slow sentence start and shapeless sentences.  Due to the overwhelming amount of complex sentences and the high grade level of this document, it is unethical for USA Rugby to have its members sign a waiver that has the players and coaches give up right that they may not understand they are giving up.

       The rugby waiver is written at a nineteenth grade level.  This is a third year graduate student level and most rugby players are high school or undergraduate students.  The first element of the Official Style that one will notice when reading the contract are the complex sentence structures, including a shocking amount of appositives.  This is common in legal documents, because it is an easy way for the lawyers to cover any possible loopholes.  While reading this waiver it is easy to get lost in appositives.  USA Rugby’s waiver covers every possible activity that is included in playing rugby.  
“Risks may arise out of contact and/or participation with other participants, spectators, equipment, field, facility and/or fixed objects; falls, collisions, rough play, and other mishaps; exposure to adverse weather conditions and/or high altitude; flaws and defects in equipment and facilities; irregular field conditions; and negligent field maintenance, negligent officiating, negligent coaching and negligent participation”
This sentence uses appositives in order to cover the entire range of causes for how someone could get hurt playing rugby.  The verbose, shapeless, run-on nature of this sentence makes it difficult to follow and read even though the language is relatively easy to understand.  By the time the reader reaches the end of this inclusive list, they have forgotten the point of the sentence.

       The document defines rugby as anything “including but not limited to warm-up, training, practice, games, clinics, travel and social events (referred to herein as the “Activities”)”.  There are many examples in the document were a group of things are listed and given one common name like “Activities” to refer to them in the remainder of the contract.  The use of these groupers makes the document impersonal and so more difficult for the less educated reader to relate their actions to potential consequences.  The average rugby player may not realize the document releases USA Rugby from liability for harm or damages that occur during the social time after games.  

       The liability waiver also uses the classic Official Style “is+ preposition clause” in the sentence, “If any provision of this document is determined to be invalid for any reason, such invalidity shall not affect the validity of any of the other provisions.”  This sentence is not only “is + preposition clause,” but also a shapeless and ambiguous sentence.  After reading it over a couple of times it is still difficult to comprehend.  Another element of the Official Style in the waiver the use of slow sentence start with almost every opening topic.  “In consideration for the privilege of the Participant’s participation in the Activities, the undersigned hereby…,” this is a slow and complicated way to say “in order to play rugby, the member agrees to...”  This form of Official Style seems formatted especially to lull the unsuspecting reader into ignoring the important words that follow.

      The liability waiver adds protection to its members, but it also takes away rights that the average rugby player does not comprehend they are giving signing away.  In the middle of the waiver, it states that the signer is taking responsibility for all risks including those that occur due to negligence. The signer is accepting all responsibility for lost opportunities, and giving up their rights to sue for damages. It is unethical for USA Rugby to use the Official Style to promote their self-interest.  In this document USA Rugby is trying to protect the club from legal action while warning the potential member of risks; however their use of the Official Style serves their interest alone.  

      Why is the use of Official Style in liability waivers so universally accepted? As discussed in this paper, it seems unethical for any organization to use such complex language when the majority of their potential members do not have the educational level to understand the personal implications.  It seems highly unlikely that the average rugby player would decide against participation if the document was written in language they could understand. This makes the decision by USA Rugby to continue the use of this document seem enigmatic and unscrupulous.  Signing the contract and becoming a USA Rugby member does give you some limited medical benefits, but overall the contract protects USA Rugby more than it does their members.  If one does not sign this waiver they cannot play rugby in the United States.  In this way USA Rugby is using the Official Style to hold power over their members and adding dangers to the game of rugby.  
By: Sarah Lechner

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