We keep hearing how the international rugby community wants the USA to get more involved in the sport and come in full force to help it grow. America has been called “rugby’s stepping stone” and “a sleeping giant” for years now, which is understandable. While we don’t disagree with that assessment, the IRB and everyone who plays rugby overseas should understand EXACTLY what it means to have the USA fully committed to the sport before they call for us to get involved.
The IRB’s reasoning for getting the USA involved is simple – money. With a population of over 300 million (most of whom are rabid sports fans of some sort) and the highest GDP on earth, America represents an untapped wealth of massive potential for rugby. A committed America would bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the sport in ticket sales and merchandising and would help tip the scales of power away from soccer, which enjoys a stable position as the world’s biggest sport.
But that’s really a short-sighted goal. It’s like inviting an ogre into your house to cook dinner without realizing that he’ll eat everything and never leave.
I can see a day when our most talented athletes pick up a rugby ball instead of a football or soccer ball (which is already happening now) and completely dominate rugby. I can see a USA fifteen’s side consisting of props Ray Lewis, Julius Peppers, and Clay Matthews, locks Terrell Suggs and Brian Urlacher, flankers Rob Gronkowski and Tony Gonzalez (maybe even the uber-talented Dwight Howard), and number 8 Michael Vick crushing a scrum or putting up an impenetrable defense. I can see a back line of scrumhalf Eli Manning, flyhalf Troy Polamalu, centers Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster, wings Charles Woodson and Larry Fitzgerald, and fullback Ed Reed cruising around or through anyone and everyone they face. I can see David Akers consistently hitting penalty kicks from fifty meters out with sniper like accuracy.
Beyond the NFL athletes, what about our incredibly talented NCAA wrestlers who have devoted their lives to closing the distance on a man and taking him down? How about our track and field athletes or mixed martial artists like UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar whose combination of cardiovascular endurance, wrestling, and balls-out toughness are perfect for rugby?
Is there really any doubt that a fully committed America would simply dominate the sport, no questions asked? And what would that do to the little countries that have long counted on rugby as a rallying cause to take on the bigger nations of the world? The All Blacks would become second fiddle. Fiji’s powerhouse sevens team would no longer bring home the massive trophies like the Bournemouth Sevens Cup or the IRB Sevens World Series. And Olympic gold medals? Forget it. America is nothing if not Olympic crazy!
And after all these horrific scenarios play out, the collective rugby community (their pockets bulging with newfound American dollars) will scratch their heads and ask “Was it worth it?”