In the 11 years I’ve been writing a newspaper column, I’ve received hate mail only two times. These being Townships readers, though, it was more like strong-dislike mail. Peevish mail, tops.
The first was when I suggested that curling, like golf and bowling, was a game that improved with drinking. I realize now that such a statement is ridiculous; I forgot darts.
The second angry letter came when I wrote about my two older daughters having taken up rugby. I said that no one really understands the rules of rugby and that those who claim they do have probably been bashed in the head one time too many. There were also references to binge drinking. Clearly, there’s a trend here.
It’s probably a good thing I never wrote about clogging, ’cause ya know, I don’t see anyone willingly doing that sober.
Years later, not two but three daughters are now rugby players. In the interim, the rules of rugby have become somewhat clearer to me. I know this because I can shout things from the sideline like, “Support! Support!” and, “That’s a knock-on!” and, “Is her leg supposed to bend that way?”
Rugby season: better known as crutch season.
All three of my girls love the sport. They love the roughness, the physicality, the camaraderie and the mud. Mostly the mud.
As a father, I respect that rugby allows young girls to tap into the full strength and grit of their bodies, upending expectations about femininity while wholeheartedly embracing the team spirit of womanhood, its power and tenacity. Rugby is aggression without anger, something that can only improve their way in the world for these young women.
But, as a father, I also worry about brain damage.
Letting your kids play rugby is kind of like saying, “Here: hit each other with these baseball bats. It’ll build character, and if you do it right, you probably won’t get hurt. Much.”
Players hobble their way through the season, their legs bruised and scraped, sunburns and turf burns on their faces, some body parts in slings, other parts merely bandaged.
This past Saturday, we looked on as a 14-year-old girl crumpled to the field after a hit from one of our team’s players. Or maybe it was her own player. Or maybe she just tripped. With rugby, it’s hard to tell sometimes. It’s kind of like a controlled riot.
The girl stayed down, pale, drifting in and out of consciousness. Someone called an ambulance. Yet I guarantee that girl will be back playing as soon as she can. And not because young people are idiots, but because those who play it, love it.
Our eldest daughter Emily played rugby in high school and Cegep and off and on since. She’s started up again recently, and this past weekend she travelled with her Montreal team to a rugby tournament in Vermont. She shared with us that, during one game, she came off the field, threw up and then ran back on. It happens.
Katie, the middle daughter, played high school and Cegep rugby too, but has played basketball the past few years, except when she had to take time off for knee surgery. She had a bone chip on her kneecap. She probably got it playing rugby. She’ll be back playing rugby for Bishop’s University this coming fall. Of course.
Abby is only in her second year of rugby. She’s a small girl. From the sidelines, we’re likely to be cheering, “Get the ball, Abby! Get the ball!” followed quickly by, “Get rid of the ball, Abby! Get rid of the ball!” When an opposing player hits her, I would describe it not so much as “a tackle” as “being folded in two.”
And yet there she was Monday, trying to take down a girl twice – no, make that three times her size. Grit, courage, only a slight bump to the head.
“Do you feel confused?” I asked her after the game. “I mean, more than usual.”
Thankfully she’s only at the junior level, so there’s no binge drinking yet.
All three of my girls love the sport, as bone-crunching and flesh-pounding as it is, and they have coaches who work to ensure they don’t foolishly injure themselves or others. It’s a great sport to play, just not easy for us parents to watch. But then, as parents, what is?
Besides, they could be doing worse: they could be clogging.