By Adam Hughes
The first time I stepped onto a rugby pitch I was thirty-three years old, chronically skinny, had never played a contact sport in my life and was deeply depressed. Six years later and I’m less depressed, still skinny, the Blackwater Rugby Club president and head coach. It may not have been love at first sight—there were still practices where I would drive to the field and keep driving because I was too anxious to get out of the car—but it was close to it.
What kept me playing rugby well past the reasonable limits of my body? What kept me giving my time and energy to a sport that cost me money and pain? What drew me in and refused to let me go? It was the friendships I made and the culture that rugby has that kept me there.
“Rugby culture” is one of those terms we use without ever really stopping to define it. Rugby people are always talking about it, bragging about, lamenting that it’s gone, but what actually is it, anyway?
I set out to answer that question recently. Over the past few weeks, I’ve reached out to almost five hundred rugby clubs and heard back from around one hundred and fifty, plus almost fifty individual rugby players and people associated with the game.
As a result of these conversations, and anticipating future conversations, I’m working on writing the story of American club rugby culture. Because however, you define it, I believe it has something to offer American society as a whole.
Our society is more divided than at any time since the Civil War. We live in individual echo chambers where the friends we have, the social media we engage with, the news we watch, are all filled with opinions that match our own. We’ve self-isolated into like-minded tribes. Rugby is the great antidote to this. Rugby is one of the only institutions—if not the only—that crosses tribal lines. A rugby club is a welcoming space regardless of race, sexuality, religion, political ideology, or any of the other labels our culture uses to demarcate and divide. Members of a club who would otherwise be screaming at each other via social media can meet in the context of rugby and be brothers, sisters, friends.
Now, to be clear, rugby culture is not perfect. There’s a tendency to over-romanticize the purity of rugby culture. It is made up of flawed human beings after all. But the reality is, there is no more inclusive sport in the world than rugby, no sport that offers the kind of camaraderie and community that rugby provides.
Over the next year I plan to write this story—the story of the pioneers of club culture in the 60s and 70s, the story of men’s and women’s clubs all over the country, of Inclusive and Gay rugby clubs, military clubs, new clubs, blue blood clubs, and clubs and organizations that transcend rugby and make a huge difference off the field. I’ve already been incredibly energized hearing the stories that American rugby has to offer—the stories of Memphis Inner City Rugby, of IGR clubs like the Atlanta Bucks, of elite-level clubs that are dedicated to growing the game and the culture while giving back to the community like Seattle Rugby Club, rugby organizations that are helping people on and off the field like QC4QR and Looseheadz, and pioneers of the game like Marty Watts and Bob Watkins.
I’d love to hear more stories. If you’d like to help with this project, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org share your story of what rugby has meant to you.
The game of rugby quite literally has saved my life. I want to tell that story and the story of so many others who are like me. Because who knows who else’s life it might save.
Onward. With you.
DJCoil Rugby & Some Rugby Culture Resources
Socal Youth Rugby: Rugby Culture & Values
Major League Rugby: 100 Reasons to Love Rugby
Rugby Norcal and USA Rugby National Development Summit “Applying Rugby’s Values“