More than a Game
Written by: Stacy Paetz, Sideline Reporter
I know sports. I was a three-sport athlete in high school and played in college. I’ve covered everything on national television from auto racing to the NFL, from ice hockey to the Little League World Series. But, in all those years I had not been exposed to rugby.
I enjoy sharing stories within the context of each sport. I savor the excitement in watching contests unfold to reveal an eventual winner and all the drama in between. I love learning what makes each sport unique.
When I got the call to drive down to San Diego for my first rugby experience in April of 2018, I fired up YouTube and listened to as much rugby as I had time to digest. I didn’t have time to learn the game’s nuances and how to dissect the plays, for my first match I simply needed to understand the terminology. So, I listened intently and made things make sense based on the world I knew in American football.
My first match in San Diego was beyond exciting. Not because I saw my first rugby hat-trick, or witnessed my first drop goal, or the fact that the home team came back to win in full time. No, what I took away was how the sport of rugby is more than a game — it’s a culture.
Integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline, and respect are the defining characteristics of rugby. This unique character of sport is maintained both on and off the field. It’s not uncommon to see team captains and other prominent players working with young people on the pitch on game day. Yes, on game day. Your culture is not what you occasionally say, it’s what you consistently do.
I recently observed Seattle Seawolves captain Shalom Suniula running a clinic just a couple hours prior to facing top contender Rugby United New York. I’ve never witnessed anything like this in any other professional sport I’ve covered. Traditionally, NBA players will not speak to the media within a two-hour window prior to tip-off. If they have team shootaround in the morning of the game, that’s the only opportunity. Many pro athletes give back to their communities, run camps and make appearances at events, but rugby is extraordinarily different.
Another cultural element I admire is that each match is under the control of the officials. Athletes don’t get away with back talk the way we tend to notice in other professional sports. In the heat of the moment, all competitors can be quick to react, but the boundary lines are much thicker in rugby. I’ve not officiated a game since I was in high school when I was the lead referee for a 7th-grade girl’s basketball tournament game. Thankfully, I didn’t have to manage trash talk or an aggressive crowd that harassed me. In a profession like officiating, you’re lucky if even 50% of those watching agree with your decisions. In rugby, the officials are the law, and I have an immense appreciation for the respect that is expected to be shown.
I also learned a few skills from the best, like when the USA National Women’s Team joined us to create videos, giving viewers and new fans a closer look at aspects of the game. I was taught to safely tackle, how to bind properly in a scrum, and to how it felt to be hoisted in a line out. That. Was. Incredible.
The apex of rugby in America is Major League Rugby, and the growth of the MLR shows no sign of abating. Many US cities boast a rugby pedigree, and with Major League Rugby in their backyards nurturing its identity, rugby continues to strengthen. Additionally, there are several highly decorated international players who chose to continue their careers on American soil based on their belief in this league.
My first match in San Diego in the spring of 2018 may have been my introduction to rugby, but my genuine love of sport quickly took root on the pitch that very day. Watching the game pitch side and reporting it on television is a blessing. Sharing the stories of those who make this league and this sport special is my honor.
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