You know what goes well with a formal suit? A black eye.
At least that’s what I told myself while catching awkward glances at my internship. Welcome to rugby, the greatest sport in the world … at least in my opinion.
But in all seriousness, rugby really is one of the most interesting and athletic sports out there. For people who have never seen it, it is a perfect medium between American football and soccer. Continuous play and bone-crushing hits come together in a game where everything is left on the field. The Harvard Rugby Club best describes the game as “an elegant violence.”
After spending the last four years playing club rugby for St. Thomas, I’m convinced that this sport is truly the perfect match for America. Rugby’s roots are growing deeper in our nation, and it’s time we, as Americans, pick up the ball and join the international community.
Rugby began at a boarding school in England when boys playing soccer decided to pick the ball up and run with it. It quickly evolved. English clubs formed professional unions in 1871, further developing the game until it finally crossed the Atlantic. Then Americans took their own spin and eventually developed the game of football we know today.
Rugby will return to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the first time since the 1920’s. What you probably don’t know is that the United States national team is the defending Olympic champions, pulling in two gold medals in 1920 and 1924. But with the boom of American football, rugby fell behind as a sport for young collegiates … until recently.
The sport is growing exponentially in the United States, and catching up with the rest of the world. An estimated 1.13 million Americans are already involved in rugby, making it the fastest-growing team sport in the United States. USA Rugby has established programs for young children to learn the sport and has developed a very strong high school following with both club and school teams. Rugby is now televised on regular channels and development of a professional league is coming soon.
As a rugby player, I’m happy about this. I want to see my sport succeed in our country. What I really want, though, is for Americans to realize their potential with the sport. So many people are turned off by the game saying, “it’s just football without pads.” Wrong. The fluidity of the game and the movement of the players is truly a dance, and by watching a game from above, you can see how simply beautiful it can be.
This rugby craze is drawing in athletes across the nation. From Division-III athletes to NFL players, rugby has grabbed their attention as a place for them to make their mark and glory. Rugby is a place where the lesser-known and backups can become the superstars.
Carlin Isles was a running back for the D-II Ashland University. I think it’s safe to say that Isles’ potential for the NFL was a long shot, but he had one quality of stardom that had not yet been tapped. Isles is fast, really fast. In 2012, he was ranked at the 36th fastest sprinter in the United States. He might have been out of reach for the American track and field team, but he was right on target for the the American national rugby team- the Eagles.
Since joining the team, Isles has become a hero, out-running and out-scoring everyone. Isles is just one example of many that are continuing to pop up across the nation. Most recently, former Packers running back Ahman Green announced he will join the U.S. Olympic team in hopes of helping the Eagles defend their gold. Think about it. How often do D-II athletes and record-holding NFL players come together to play a sport? Even football players like Tim Tebow have been contacted to play rugby. This brave new world that rugby brings is mixing up our preconceived notions on what an athlete really is. Just because you’re not good at one thing, doesn’t mean you can’t conquer another. Rugby can be the avenue for another sector of American athletes to succeed, living out the ideal that we can and will be the best at the thing we set our minds to. Why wouldn’t we embrace that American ideal of achievement?
Keep an eye on this sport. It’s not all about the bruises. As Americans, we’re proud of our athletic ability and our knowledge of sports, so let’s expand it. This “elegant violence” is absolutely perfect for us.
Alex Goering can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.