Quick Look Gays & Rugby
Yesterday I tweeted support for an informal initiative that encourages gay New Zealand All Blacks rugby players to be publicly “outed” to help end the stigma and negative connotations that are associated with being gay. Gay rights group, Rainbow Wellington, in New Zealand stated that a past or current All Blacks player shouldn’t be afraid to “out” themselves because “it’s time” for a gay rugby player. Matt Jarvis, a straight and married, English footballer appeared on the cover of the UK’s best-selling gay magazine, Attitude, in an effort to fight homophobia. Gareth Thomas, a former Welsh international, and Ben Cohen, a former English international and creator of the “StandUp Foundation” aimed at combating homophobia and bulling, have both publicly worked to encourage the rugby community to be comfortable with each other regardless of their sexual orientation. Being gay is personal and shouldn’t matter because it doesn’t alter the content of a persons character. I’m not advocating that every gay rugby player shout it from the rooftops that they are gay. However, if an All Black did want to openly tell the world that he’s gay, I’d encourage and support him.
The New Zealand All Blacks is one of the greatest teams in all of the world of sports, let alone rugby. They are fierce, gentlemanly, courageous, honorable, and the current World Cup Champions in Rugby Union. They are the single most recognizable rugby entity in the entire world - even people who don’t know the difference between the Union and League codes, or Rugby 7’s, still comment about the All Blacks when rugby comes up in conversation. Some variation of: “Those guys are tough!” usually follows up their admiration for the guys in the All Blacks kit. Their powerful play, skilled tactics, team camaraderie, and passion are some reasons why they are Champions. The Haka alone strikes fear into international opponents’ hearts. Some of the players, when playing for their home clubs, shaved their heads to support medical research for Leukemia and Blood Cancer. These men are quite literally that… men, in every sense of the world.
What is the definition of a manly man? That requires an entire review from people who are far smarter and manly than I, so I’ll just write up a few quick characteristics that will help me illustrate my point: Men take care of others - especially those than cannot take care of themselves. Men respect and value others’ rights to be who they choose to be. They’re tough, not in the massive muscle kind of way, but in the gritty, strong spirited way. They’re brave and they do what is right and necessary, even when it might be difficult. I think you get the point and can establish the connection - The All Blacks are tough men who bring great honor to New Zealand and the world of rugby.
Rugby is an fantastic sport and I’ve learned some incredible and valuable lessons from my time involved in it. I was nervous when I first stepped onto the pitch my first week of college because I was significantly shorter and far less muscularly developed than everyone else. The biggest lumber-jack of a man that I’ve ever seen in real life put his hand on my shoulder, feigned a smile, and encouraged me to stay. I usually try to keep conversations with those types of guys to a minimal, not because they are unintelligent, but rather because my neck starts to hurt from craning my head up toward the sky. He turned out to be one of the nicest and most intelligent guys I met in college - I tried to sit during our conversations so I didn’t have to look up - and taught me a lot about rugby and a little about life. I’ve typed some of these life lessons here in addition to my other perspectives I’ve picked up from my rugby adventures to address some messages I received that, in essence, said the All Blacks players should not be openly gay because the “media” will hurt their career.
Here are some:
- There are no stereotypes in rugby. I watched as these large lumber-jack men smashed heads and bodies in an attempt to win rugby matches. Broken clavicles, concussions, fractured pride, and shattered egos, all for a chance at glory - these guys can’t be all too bright if they’re concussed and still trying to smash into each other for fun. Wrong. Rugby players are some of the most highly educated men and women who hold professional jobs and are leaders in their fields as well as contributing back to their community.
- Honesty. Any player will tell you that politics has very little to do with team selection. The best player will start, rather than the player who brings in the most fans. This is apparent with Johnny Wilkinson, England’s great legend, sitting during this past World Cup. Furthermore the Aussies holding Quade Cooper, their star fly half, for a bit away from the fly half position, and several other popular NZ players (Dan Carter and Piri Weepu - legends) who sat instead of pulling on the starting XV jersey. Despite common misconception, rugby demands honesty and integrity from its players and organizations. You have to face a man front-on when rucking rather hitting from the side, that’s the very definition of confronting an issue face to face.
- Anyone can play rugby. Being a small guy, I didn’t actually believe I could play rugby but with my teammates encouragement and support I’ve played for the past six years. Being on several different teams and playing on a few different continents, I can say that rugby has a place for everyone. I’ve faced guys smaller and bigger and it didn’t matter what color their skin was or what language they spoke. It didn’t matter what hair style they had or how expensive their boots (cleats) were. I never once under-estimated an opponent because his jersey didn’t fit right or because his shorts were from last seasons sale rack. Sports, is for everybody and should be universal; LGBTQIA, race, sex, social-economic status, etc. need to be left out.
- Accountability and support. We all know our roles and it’s clear when we don’t fulfill them because we let our team down. We’re accountable to ourselves and our team. Everyone has to carry the ball and everyone has to defend the try zone. We fail if we don’t work together as one unit. We have to recognize that we’re stronger together than on our own and in order to achieve that we have to support each other.
Being a rugby player isn’t about grunting, spitting, drunkenly singing songs, and wearing ripped jerseys and battle scars for all to see. Being an All Black is an incredible honor - it’s so much more than songs and scars. Rugby demands quality and class from the players. There are no stereotypes when it comes to selecting the best players. We have to be accountable and support one another. I have a hard time seeing teammates, especially teammates as close as the All Blacks, shunning and hurting a fellow member because of his personal sexual orientation. The All Blacks are many things but superficial just isn’t one of them. Fear cannot and should not play a factor in our humanity. Some tweeters said they are concerned for the gay players’ careers - it wouldn’t be a concern if we rallied to make being gay a non-issue. The rugby community can currently “handle” an elite gay player if we simply didn’t care if they were gay or not.
These ideas and lessons are not exclusive to rugby alone, they are universal and they’re apparent in our everyday lives. Rugby has helped me ingrain these lessons in my life but we can find the same principles in any discipline or medium… the chess team, ballot, knitting club, even that pesky ultimate frisbee. Why not apply it to our lives? Rugby crosses many boarders and boundaries; it brings people together. Many remark on how accessible it is to become a fan because it is fun and inclusive. Aside from actually understanding the game they understand that opposing sides are sincerely cordial after the game and fans are genuinely friendly to one another. Rugby is for everyone not just the socially accepted or for a particular “elite” group. The demographics of the international rugby community is diverse and cross-cultural.
I refuse to accept the premise that if a gay man, who is a World Champion, is seen publicly with another gay man that his career is over. I refuse to accept the notion that being gay is bad, negative, scary, un-natural, or wrong. I refuse to accept the idea that people cannot be gay and be great. I’m astonished that in 2013 people exist that believe being a highly skilled professional and being gay is mutually exclusive. Is a man unworthy of wearing an international rugby jersey because he’s gay? You Can Play - I’m borrowing from Patrick Burke’s NHL mantra. You can play for the All Blacks if you’re good enough to play for the All Blacks. Period. It doesn’t matter who you love as long as when you pull on that jersey you are the best player to honor the game and your country.
We all need the courage to “Stand Up” for each other and for what is right; rugby has taught me that. I expect any true rugby player any true adult to understand that basic humanity. Maybe the negative tweeters were right, the “media” and some people just aren’t ready for high profile rugby players to be gay. I respectfully disagree; there are gay people in media who will not judge. There are gay athletes world wide who empathize. There are people who may not be comfortable with it, but this is an opportunity to positively and significantly change the world paradigm; to establish understanding and rid fear. We cannot wait for it to change, we have to change it.
The All Blacks were rattled but not broken when an earthquake devastated Christchurch this past year because they re-grouped, recovered, and re-built; they are strong and resilient. The All Blacks are strong and the strong take care of the weak. The All Blacks are men and men stand up for that is right, even though it may be difficult. The All Blacks are honorable and they will fight for righteousness even thought that may mean they risk their standing in the media or risk popularity in their careers. The All Blacks are brave and courageous, as evidence by their Mana and will support any player who needs it. I know the All Blacks represent everything that is good about rugby and showcases the ideals that make us good people. They will encourage a bully free environment in sports and schools and will continue to choose the best players to represent New Zealand regardless of sexual orientation.
It is appropriate for an All Blacks player to support equal rights and tolerance acceptance because who better than the best? Who better than the manliest of men who are suppose to stand up for those who might not be able to stand up for themselves because they are concerned what others will think? Why not reassure people that it’s okay to be who they are? Isn’t that the sign of truly enlightened and strong people? Isn’t the mark of a champion one that triumphs not only when it’s convenient but also when it’s difficult? The leaders are suppose to be the best of us and they’re suppose to lead. Although, I don’t think it needs to be a gay All Blacks player - it should be just any All Blacks player. We must not only play, but also live with love in our hearts, because if any of us are quiet about important issues and righteous causes, we all lose. Stand Up.
“It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.”
― Marianne Williamson
“I don’t trust men who don’t drink. There is something about drinking which opens a man to extraordinary disaster: you meet all the wrong women and you step out into alleys to duke it with all the wrong men. It’s kind of a lesson in stupidity but you learn more in that kind of life than most men who live 10 lives.” Charles Bukowski.