Rugby Responsibility

It’s been over a month now since the University of Delaware Rugby Club was placed on a 5-year probation, the result of a college party run amuck.  The Club has maintained that it had nothing to do with the party as an organization, and, according to a team member, “… it was caused by individuals acting on their own.” (Tyler Kingkade, The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/27/im-shmacked-udel-rugby-suspension_n_4002881.html)  The Club appealed the decision, and the appeal was denied.  The fall semester at Delaware rolls on, the student rugby players remaining continue going to class, and the rest of the rugby world gets to play on Saturdays.   So where does that leave the state of Rugby in the U.S.?

I should tell you I believe the Delaware Rugby Club officers, and hopefully they’re able to play rugby sooner than 2018. I can’t help but wonder if the disciplinary decision was made so severe … because it was rugby.  Is there a perception issue?  To me, these few players responsible for the demise of their entire team are no different from other athletes who break the rules.  Generally, it seems that those players are dealt with on an individual basis by the NCAA or other governing body; very rarely is the “death penalty” invoked for an entire team.  That being said, what’s happened has provided rugby fans and players in the U.S. an opportunity to talk about the big picture, and what it means to be a rugby player today.

I’m a rugby fan because I’m the parent of two rugby players.  It’s how I learned about the sport.  So, my initial reaction to the U of D debacle was not a good one.  I wrote to a friend, “I’m talking to people, trying to tell them what a great sport this is… and then I see an article like this. I know the majority of our players are not making these bad decisions, but it doesn’t make it an easier sell for a mom talking to other moms.”  And rest assured, the overwhelming majority of rugby people I’ve met are outstanding individuals, and I count myself lucky to know them and be included in the rugby community.

I’m a typical parent. When my son was younger, I drove him to practice; I’m still driving my younger two kids to practices.  I sign off on all the forms; I take the kids to get their physicals.  I make sure their clothes are washed, and that Gatorade is in the bag.  As every parent knows, it’s a fairly tough juggling act at times.  When the kids wanted to play rugby, it was ME that had to be convinced to let them be involved in a sport I’d first heard about in a song at college (and not in a good way).   Let’s be honest here – rugby players, at least back in the day, had a certain reputation.

Here’s a quick example of what we rugby fans face:  A few years ago, a couple of high school ruggers were helping set up for our first Rugby Indiana auction (they were super helpful and super nice).  One of them told me a story about a woman he met while he was working his job at a pizza place.  Through the course of conversation as she was waiting for her pizza, he told her he played rugby.  She assumed he was in college, and voiced her assumption that he must party as a rugby player.  He quickly set her straight.  I told this group of boys, “If you don’t want people to have that assumption of rugby players, then you need to remember that and act appropriately.  You represent not just yourself, but your club and your school.”  They were solemn for a moment, looked at me, and one spoke for the group and said, “You’re right.”

Now it’s 2013, and this once foreign sport is making headway not only in this family, but also in schools and communities across the country.  We’re not where soccer is yet, but it’s my hope that we get there.  Where contact sports is concerned, we’re a football country.  It’s hard enough to find a field suitable for a pitch sometimes or convince coaches of other sports that rugby is a really good mutually beneficial sport, let alone trying to convince people and parents that rugby is a sport worthy of being placed on their calendar, one that belongs to gentlemen and ladies.

So, along comes this incident at Delaware.  And I’m not naive enough to say that it doesn’t happen anywhere else.  It does.  Some incidents are well-known, and others are not.  But here’s the deal – and this applies to all rugby players, no matter the age: YOU ARE THE FACE OF RUGBY.  YOU represent not only yourself, but your club, your city or school, and the sport of rugby.  When you engage in conduct unbecoming that of a rugger, whether you like it or not, you represent all of rugby and you plant a seed in the head of prospective rugby moms that maybe this sport IS really like that rugby song you learned back in college.  Even if the conduct is an outlier, it has an exponential effect.

The fact of the matter is that growing the sport of rugby requires a few things, but mostly it involves increasing the number of players.  It’s a snowball effect – increase the number of middle school players, and you’ll have more high school players; increase the number of high school players, and your college and men’s/women’s team numbers will increase.  A bigger pool of players will help with our national teams.  New players are picked up along the way, for sure, but to build a solid foundation it helps to have players who’ve had rugby as part of their culture growing up.

I see a lot of folks really wanting the U.S. to have a competitive team in the Rugby World Cup, and I’m right there with you.  I want the Eagles to be more than competitive; I want them to win!  Who doesn’t??  AND I want the U.S. to HOST the Rugby World Cup.

But we don’t get there if we don’t have players.  And we don’t get there if we don’t have parents who AGREE TO LET THEIR KIDS PLAY.  Support our coaches who attempt to instill in their teams a culture of respect and responsibility; and support our players who do the right thing.  Be professional in your relationships with your teammates, coaches, fans, etc.  Be the gentlemen and ladies this sport was made for.

You can still have fun.  But do it knowing who you represent, and knowing what the end goal is:  more rugby players, more teams, and, eventually, more Gold.  🙂

29 thoughts on “Rugby Responsibility

  1. Generally, it seems that those players are dealt with on an individual basis by the NCAA or other governing body; very rarely is the “death penalty” invoked for an entire team.

    Stupidity abounds. 2 Words – Ohio State

    • Amazing…in two words you manage to demonstrate your own stupidity. The Ohio State suspension was not a response to the actions of Terrelle Pryor, it was because of the attempted cover up by Jim Tressel. Had there been no cover up, Terrelle Pryor simply would have been suspended and the games he played in would have been negated. Furthermore, the Ohio state football team (and even the Penn state) still competed after their sanctions (most likely because there is far too much money at stake to cancel their seasons).
      The author was comparing situations where football and basketball players have been arrested for assault, battery, weapons charges, underage drinking, OWIs, robbery, etc. and those players are dealt with on an individual basis.
      Learn some facts before you open your mouth…moron

      • Wow, yet again someone produces the amazing debating skills and breadth of vocabulary of the football fan, and I love football as well. All James was pointing out was the iniquity of punishing the whole team (FYI investigation still not complete ) for the alleged actions of a couple of idiot teenagers. I am trying to think of a descriptive word to describe your over the top response…. ImbecilicYou will find it a dictionary under the I section…

  2. Of course it was about Rugby!!! They didn’t put the football team on probation for the robbery at gunpoint incident in 2010!!

  3. Is there a perception issue?

    Yes.

    But I think what you’re seeing is ALSO that ‘B list’ sports have ALWAYS been punished far more sternly than A-listers like Basketball and Football. When I taught at a university I never had a coach intervene to have grades altered for wrestlers: other TAs told me they had indeed gotten calls for those other sports. Rugby at this point isn’t the cash cow that American Football is, so they’ll be treated more severely.

    On the other hand, after Penn we are going to see the death penalty invoked more often, even for men’s a-list sports.

  4. Thank you for this post. As a U-19 coach, ref, physician, and decades long believer in the rugby ethos I applaud your stance.

  5. My daughter plays rugby and the horrified looks I get from parents are entertaining at times. She’s played on all boys teams up until now and at this point she’s reached an age (junior high) where that isn’t allowed. It isn’t that she set out to be one of the boys or to be that girl breaking ground for others, there just wasn’t a girls’ team in her age bracket. When parents ask me about rugby or make comments that make their disgust clear, I point them in the direction of the movie Forever Strong and ask them to watch it and get back to me. I didn’t play rugby myself but I built a career in sports medicine starting with volunteering with the Highland Rugby medical staff. Not every coach is going to be a Larry Gelwix but there are plenty like him out there. There are plenty of rugby coaches who understand that the lessons they learn on the field can lead to success off the field. I agree so much that as a growing sport we have to watch our words and actions and set an example. This applies to the parents, the athletes, the coaches and other staff. Even though I only observed the lessons from the sidelines, what I learned from the sidelines is a big part of who I am as an adult.

  6. Awesome! I agree and have seen both good and bad examples (more good than bad) of Rugby
    And to grow the sport here in the US the perception of the sport must change! It is not just a rowdy bunch of guys rolling in the grass n mud, throwing brutal dirty hits and then hittin the bars and singing questionable songs. Lol. Don’t get me wrong, some of the traditions help bond the fellows on a team.. But it’s become so much more than that! My son started at 15.. And the only team for him was a men’s team! Talk about a nervous mom… But these young men and coaches took him under their wings, pushed him, protected him and he has earned his way up the ranks in his sport. And we, sisters, moms, dads and other relatives are watching as the sport becomes more visable and younger teams become more prevelant, must continue to remind those that are starting as well as those that have been around for years, to make us all proud and bring a classy and awesome sport the positive attention it deserves!

  7. I recently came upon this blog by a friend that passed it along. I just wanted to tell you that I wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote about. My back story is fairly similar to yours in the fact that I am doing everything I can to change the perception of rugby in the United States. I have played rugby for 15 years (starting in HS, then in college, then for men’s club) and have coached HS rugby for 4 years. I recently started a rugby apparel company called Maul Rugby Co. that is dedicated to growing rugby in the united states from the ground up. We are donating a portion of our proceeds from every item sold to youth rugby teams around the country to try to increase the player pool. Check us out at MaulRugby.com. I can’t stand the companies out there that are putting out slogan t-shirts that hold this sport back and give us all a bad reputation. That’s why I started Maulrugby.com.

    Just wanted to let you know that I loved the post and wish more parents would get behind this.

  8. I understand the comparison being made to NCAA Sports since as a Rugby Dad, I look at Club Rugby as being at the NCAA level. A football team at most major colleges bring in big $$$ for the school. You know, follow the money so a 5 year ban would just not happen. Also, I think the disciplinary committee at most colleges are at a Club/Frat level and do not go through the Athletic Department. Therefore, the penalty was more in line with a Fraternity being “Banned” from Campus for 1-5 years; it happens. What I’m guessing really is the big issue with the Univ of Delaware was that they seemed to have a serious “University Problem” with parties, alcohol, and drunk students (vs Rugby Players) acting out poorly. The UoD should take more responsibility for their Student Body as a whole and not try to place blame on just a “Club Sport”. You know, when prospective students and their parents come for a tour or a reporter calls the University, they can place the blame on “oh, that was a Rugby problem”. If the Rugby Club was a part of the problem, then let them be disciplined in an appropriate manner. If the Rugby Club was not a part of the problem, the University should step up, address their University Wide Issue, and solve it without taking the easy road.

    • It’s been a long time since I’ve been at the college level, although we’ll be there soon with our oldest (next year). This is probably not just a U of Del problem. Great Goffonrugby column about this as well (link in another comment). I look at Club Rugby as being at that high level, too. College ruggers are tremendous athletes.

  9. I have been a player, ref,, coach, union official, and probably most important for this discussion, a college administrator for the past 20 years. I started playing rugby in college and remember quite well the post game match party in which two members of the college club we played stripped to their jock strapped and started dancing on top of the bar at a local establishment in the heart of this urban university. This same team had previously been suspended for bringing cadaver skull from their medical school onto the pitch and were kicking it around for affect. This is one example of what school administrators have experienced with collegiate rugby. The reality is that the rugby club and community since the 70’s based upon the actions would more likely come under the supervision of the Greek Affairs director rather than the athletic or club sports director. Those of us who are 30 and older and played the game in a era that lack university/college direction (and support, but why would they), forget the legacy that we have left collegiate ruggers today. It is only in the past 5-10 years that a club, if they could get the local media to come out to a match or tourney for an interview, couldn’t resist referencing the post-match partying more than the match itself. Us older gents must realize that the days of social rugby are gone, which is not to mean we lose the community that rugby gives us, but young adults today, and their parents who have never played rugby, are accustomed to organized sports from a very early age. They are also accustomed to serious athleticism, which a mindset on safety. When we were considering a rugby team at the university I work at, the issues that came forth when we did a benchmarking inquiry with other schools did not concern safety issues, but disciplinary issues. Rugby is usually an “un-invited sport” on campus. We cannot expect the same conditions as varsity sports. We have to earn our presence. I say that as a rugger and as a university administrator. Was the penalty excessive at Delaware, perhaps, but then, I don’t know all the back history of the club’s presence on campus. Is it unfair that today’s students inherit the sins of the past, perhaps, but institutional memories linger far longer than the current student body. We have earned our position, both negative, and fortunately with increasing pace, a more positive presence on college campuses.

  10. Hi. I’m a Welshman and where I come from Rugby is the only sport and its worn with a huge honour! Young boys who play are shown from a young age that there are few sports as hard and fewer where you hit eachother hard for 80 mins shed blood with opposition and then shake and have a drink after. They are also shown that poor behaviour is felt with harshly and it should be individual. You wouldn’t cut down an apple try for one rotten apple! And as for American football, as interesting as it is, those boys couldn’t handle a sport where padding isn’t required!! Rugby&Honour peace.

  11. Really enjoy your rugby passion.
    U of Del is nearby. Raw deal for the kids.
    New Zealand Maori All Blacks to train at Neumann U. where I coach.
    NZ will Play USA @stadium where CRC7’s
    Were played.Excited plus.Keep up the good Mum.Stay in touch.

  12. I began my rugby career in 1978 as an original member of the Media RFC.We began as a result of a couple UDRFC guys.The rugby
    stone age.Playing rugby changed my life and is still very much my passion.The game at every level has grown by leaps and bounds.
    Along with the men’s side we now have Three youth sides. 13 to 19YO.So although the Uof D administration is unaware of the positive impact they have had in our community.I know.Perhaps a RUGBY night in Newark is in order with the rugby community flooding downtown businesses with rugby dollars. A positive way to show our support.
    In regards to image, I met with a middle school principle regarding our use of the school field. He said the gym teacher claimed the rugby team messed up their field. We visited the field and there were NO SIGNS of damage.
    At that point I challenged him “why are you giving us such a hard time? ”
    His response was “we are concerned about our image that
    rugby gives us”
    I the shot back”I see a soccer tourny is taking place here tomorrow. Isn’t that the sport where a couple hundred fans were killed at a game? Never read a news story about that at a rugby game.Now tell me about image”
    Stunned he never denied another permit.

    • This in a nutshell is the problem. You describe perfectly the “perception versus reality” issue. My son has played rugby since the age of four. Last season we formed a club. We had 3 players who had touched a rugby ball in their lives. We were struggling. My son went and recruited 11 footballers. We went the season 14-0. 7 are now at the same college playing Rugby not football. All are wonderful athletes and all are great responsible young gentlemen who understand the bond that rugby brings. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water .

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