The Stigma of Playing Rugby

by Jennifer K. Jones, SUNY Cortland, April 15, 2008

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I am on the women’s rugby team here at SUNY Cortland. I noticed the stigma of rugby before I even knew what the sport was. My freshmen year, I received a little white piece of paper saying “Bored? Try women’s rugby.” My friend said to me “Oh, don’t do that, they are all dykes”. Coming from a really small closed-minded town, I naturally wanted to stay far away from something that would make me look different, and definitely didn’t want to be seen as lesbian. For the record, I am straight and in a relationship with a man. As second semester rolled around, I received another white slip under my door. This time, I took them up on their offer. I went to the interest meeting and saw that these women were not at all the people I had imagined. They were not hairy women with “I hate men” tattoos that farted and burped to their heart’s content. They were women like me, people that are competitive, fun-loving, outgoing, and base their team around pride, power, and teamwork. I was never judged about how I looked or the way I acted, I was immediately accepted to the team and welcomed into their way of life. I remember asking my teammates about the stereotypes of women rugby players, and my teammates saying that as long as we knew who we were and what we loved, what others said didn’t matter.

I have been on the team since the spring of 2007 and through all of the teasing from family and friends; I have never been happier to be a part of a team. They are more like family than teammates. As a member of a family, I am naturally upset when someone takes aim and hurts another member of our team. Anytime someone makes a derogatory comment toward a player, it hurts not only them, but all of us. As a whole, we are tired of the jokes, stereotypes, and prejudice against us. These offenses come from all levels of power when it comes to SUNY Cortland. Students, professors, advisors, and even members of management have something against rugby players. Oh, and of course that little organization called the NCAA. Our team and the men’s team are full of outstanding athletes. Athletes that can play 80 minutes straight with no breaks, take hits with no pads, handle thousands of pounds of force in scrums, and use all their strength to score. These athletes, if none other, deserve to be recognized for their dedication to their sport and their team.

The typical rugby stereotype for women is that we are stupid drunken lesbian rebels with no respect for authority. Doesn’t sound like the type of people that would get into college does it? The admission requirements of SUNY Cortland make sure that only the best applicants are accepted. So how could it be that through this process that the stereotype of stupid came about? Rugby has hundreds of rules and 15 positions; one must be smart to learn all of these. Each position requires different skills; some need more running, some more tackling, some with more formations and special plays. A pack member needs to understand physics and how force works and how to best use it to your advantage. A wing player has to understand where the weaknesses are in the other team to get the ball up the field. All of these skills require practice and grueling trial-and-error sessions. The physical demands of rugby are enough to make top athletes cringe. We play in sun, rain, hail, snow. We run, tackle, scrum, kick, pass, and run again for 80 minutes straight with no breaks or substitutions. Do you honestly think we could do that if we are always drinking as the stereotype says? Or do you think that we could memorize the responsibility of playing each position if we were drunk all the time?

As for the lesbian claim, I alone am enough evidence to prove that thought wrong. In every sport, there is diversity among the players, racial, sexual, physical, what makes rugby any different? Yes, we have our share of lesbian and bisexual players, we also have a majority of heterosexual members. I am tired of the constant jokes and teasing. I am tired of having to prove that I am not only a rugby player, but that I am a straight rugby player. Many people are turned away from rugby because they think that they will suffer the same fate, the teasing, and maybe some fear that we all are lesbian and that we would make them feel awkward. It was because of this fear that I didn’t play my first semester here at SUNY Cortland. Like I said earlier, I am from a small community that would not take the thought of me being on a team full of lesbians. So, I stayed away, I didn’t think about rugby as a great sport for athletes, I thought of it as a weird woman love thing. It wasn’t until my second semester that I realized that I didn’t care and that I would like to try rugby. I am so glad that I overcame my fear, and realized that the women’s rugby team was not what everyone had said and that I joined the best team that I have ever taken part of. I was strong enough, but I know that a lot of people are not. People that are homophobic wouldn’t dare try out for a team that was marked as being lesbian. So what needs to be done? The lesbian stereotype HAS to go.

The term rebel means: "someone who rejects the codes and conventions of society." To reject the codes and conventions of society would be breaking the law. Here are the facts, 64.5 % of my teammates are future educators, 9.6% of them are future athletic trainers, 9.6% of them are future recreation managers, 6.4% are future biologists, and the other 9.6% are going to be in various majors like kinesiology, criminology, and communications. Because the majority of my team is education majors I have chosen educators as an example. As future educators, do you think my teammates would jeopardize their careers by breaking laws and damaging their records? I think not. They would never get hired. This goes to prove that once again, the stereotypes are false.

Rugby as a sport is tough, you have to work hard, use your body, memorize rules and plays, and be a part of a large team. But, dealing with ridicule from students, professors, and other associates is another task all together. We should not have to go through so much to enjoy the sport that we all love. We should not have to deal with being judged by people who don’t even know us personally, they just assume that we are dimwitted and irresponsible because of the sport we play. It is just a sport, it is a congregation of people that all have the same common interest…rugby. Not the interest of getting drunk, rebelling against authorities, or bashing our heads in. We are strong, proud, working, intelligent, and team orientated and we are tired of being seen for people that we are not, just because we play rugby. It is not acceptable and needs to stop because it is taking away the greatness of the sport and the ethics that rugby really teaches like teamwork, morals, confidence, and acceptance. We embrace these ideals, now why can’t everybody else?

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