Photography by Jessica Bal | Courtesy of Narratively
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, 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 and encouragement.
“Come on, guys. Pick that shit up.”
“All fucking day.”
“Kick it out, you fucking motherfuckers.”
Among the Gotham players is a tall, chiseled, handsome man. He started the game on the sidelines and hasn’t yet changed into a uniform, instead wearing a tight sleeveless shirt and short black shorts. His eyes are locked on the game. As he watches, another man, dressed in jeans, a maroon sweatshirt and dark Ray-Ban sunglasses, sneaks up behind him and places his hands on the Gotham player’s backside. Startled, the player turns around. He immediately recognizes the man and laughs. The two exchange a kiss that, while subtle, is anything but perfunctory.
On some sidelines, a player kissing another man might turn heads. But very few members of Gotham even notice, let alone care.
That’s because a vast majority of Gotham’s thirty-five players are gay men. Like any team, the scoreboard is the primary measuring stick for success, but Gotham also strives to promote inclusivity and eviscerate the notion that what happens on the field is in anyway related to sexual orientation.
This is excerpt from "Gay and Gutsy on the Rugby Field" at Narratively. The full story can be read here.