To some people, the phrase “gay rugby” may seem odd. But when I found out about Charlotte’s gay rugby tournament on Sept. 26, I wasn’t really surprised.

Back in my rugby playing days I was surrounded by talented female athletes who identified as LGBT. My gay teammates and I worked out hard and partied hard. It didn’t matter who they dated or who I dated (no one), I had their back out on the field and I knew they had mine.

Mary Gross in her collegiate days playing rugby. Photo Credit: Charlotte Agenda
Mary Gross in her collegiate days playing rugby.
Photo Credit: Charlotte Agenda

But that was women’s rugby. I never realized that men’s rugby was any different.

It is different. A lot different.

When I first heard about the Queen City Crown (held at the Rugby Athletic Center), I thought it would be the perfect setting to grab a few beers and watch some good-looking legs run up and down the field.

But then I started researching gay rugby.

What stood out were the articles about World Rugby and International Gay Rugby coming together to help end homophobia in their sport.

See how naive I was? I didn’t even realize there was homophobia in rugby.

Clearly this tournament was about much more than beer drinking and checking out a good set of calves.

Hosted by the Charlotte Royals, the Queen City Crown is the first International Gay Rugby tournament in Charlotte. In fact, it’s the first one in all of North Carolina.

Since I clearly didn’t see homophobia in my own rugby experience, I needed to talk to someone who has lived it. Thank goodness Craig Maxwell, the Charlotte Royals club manager, agreed to give me his first-hand perspective.

“Despite the fact that several professional athletes have recently come out as gay… it’s all too clear to gay men that athletics is still an area where discrimination is a reality,” he said. “Especially in a sport as traditionally masculine as rugby, gay athletes worry about (and have faced) verbal and physical intimidation on and off the field.”

Maxwell and his teammates formed an inclusive team to give athletes a place to play their sport without this intimidation. But they don’t just play gay teams. A big part of their schedule is playing straight teams, which helps to break down the stereotypes that have been created in rugby.

And by watching the matches on Sept. 26, you wouldn’t know that this was a “gay” rugby tournament. It was just as tough as regular rugby, just as intense as regular rugby and certainly just as dirty as regular rugby.

The only way I could even tell I was watching gay rugby was when I stood behind the team’s bench on the sidelines. It’s not every day you hear “I feel like I’m in that Flashdance scene” and “I’m going to go Mean Girls on their a**” at a men’s rugby match. Plus, when I left, Demi Lovato was blaring over the loud speakers.

Demi Lovato or not, when the athletes were competing it was clear that they weren’t concerned about one another’s sexual identity. They were focused on their next tackle, their next ruck, their next try. On the pitch there’s no social agenda.

I think Maxwell said it perfectly: “Part of our club’s mission statement is to break down barriers in athletics. We’re out on that field for the same reason as everyone else: because we love the sport.” : :

— reprinted with permission from the Charlotte Agenda