Gay and Gutsy on the Rugby Field
Years before gay players broke down barriers in the NBA and NFL, a squadron of New Yorkers demanded acceptance in the most rough-and-tumble sport of all.
Photos by Jessica Bal
Rugby is a brutal sport. It rewards power and toughness. Collisions and crunching tackles regularly leave players with bloody noses, black eyes and broken bones. The sport’s rawness is on full display on a bright but blustery Saturday morning in early April on Randall’s Island, situated between Manhattan and Queens in the East River. The Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club is locked in a tense battle with Old Maroon Rugby Football Club. With the first half nearing a close, an Old Maroon player stumbles off the field and sprawls out on the sideline. Blood pours from his nose and covers his face.
Even at the amateur level, rugby conjures up images of gladiatorial sports from centuries past. And while Old Maroon and Gotham — as they are known in local rugby circles — may be amateur teams, the players’ intense desire to win is clear. Gotham lines the field’s west side, dressed in yellow and navy blue jerseys. Players pepper their teammates with an amalgam of instruction…
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