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Another semester, another suspension. News got out on the weekend of Mary Washington’s men’s team being the latest on the chopping block. Reports have the Mothers being suspended indefinitely for singing raunchy, yet typical of rugby songs, lyrics. Apparently a recording of the songs from a party involving the rugby players made its rounds on social media and found itself in the earphones of school officials.
This suspension is a little different because it centers around sexually explicit and violent lyrics and not something directly related to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol, though it’s probably safe to assume plenty of alcohol was being consumed during the party in question. But, really, it’s the same as the suspensions of Utah, Delaware and most of those other suspensions you may or may not have heard of – college rugby players are being disciplined for doing the things that rugby players think rugby players are supposed to do.
You won’t catch me railing on the social traditions of rugby. It’s part of what attracted me to the sport, and I’ve seen it lure so many people into the fold who went on to become great rugby citizens and water carriers outside of the bar and usually in the youth game.
You’re also not going to see me tell adults exactly how to spend their free time. If they want to do it playing rugby, regardless of the standard, and singing crude songs and making bad decisions, that’s up to them. I’ve done my fair share of all of those things, and usually in that order.
However, I would caution that if you’re going to do that, you need to understand you might not like the consequences. Your team may get kicked off campus, at which point you have to go back to playing intramurals, whatever video game is all the craze these days and beer pong, like the civilians.
That might not happen, too. You might even win. I know plenty of people in the college game, some I consider friends, who still think beer on the sidelines, beer at the socials and all the other antiquated fixins are integral to the overall experience and worth the risk. I disagree with them, but that’s beside the point.
I’m incredibly lucky to be paid to coach a varsity team, which is unchartered territory for me personally, but the overwhelming majority of college coaches are volunteers. And if those volunteers with nothing to lose but a hobby that takes up an enormous amount of time, usually costs them some money and a big emotional investment want to relive their glory days with their players, who am I to tell them they can’t?
Some of those guys even still manage to win. A team that won really big recently lived on that razor’s edge, but happened to have an extremely talented class or two and a galvanizing coach. That was good enough to see them to some hardware, even though they were suspended from using on-campus fields and facilities during the playoff run because of sideline tomfoolery.
So I can’t claim that you can’t party and win, because there are plenty of examples through the years of teams that have. However, if you want to be taken seriously, if you want to improve your club’s status on campus, if you want to do something bigger and help carry the torch a little further forward for the game in this country, you can’t keep pretending you’re Mark Cuban and it’s the ‘70s. That’s where the Mothers, or at least some Mothers, apparently got confused.
(*Can I just say it’s not surprising that a team holding onto a nickname like Mothers, which according to the club website dates back to 1985, is having trouble letting go of the club culture of yesteryear. More on that in a minute.)
I guess the point here is you have to decide what you want to be and what you want to accomplish. If you want to play the best rugby possible over a long period of time and have nice things like administrative support, you should probably take the beer and songs and partying out of your college club. If you value the latter too much to leave it be, then brace for the consequences.
Or do what I think might be the perfect balance here – play men’s club ball. No one cares if a bunch of lumpy men of mixed ages sing absurd songs and drink beer in parks. One of the lines I have given high school players in the past ahead of an out of town trip or a big school dance or a Friday night before a big Saturday game, which I think applies here, is, you have the rest of your life to get drunk and make stupid decisions, but you only have a finite amount of time to play and win a championship for your school, and those timelines don’t overlap.
This is the world we live in, like it or not. If the Heisman Trophy winner, who generates millions in revenue for his university, can’t yell a mostly innocuous, though inappropriate, popular phrase without being suspended, why the hell would members of the rugby team (we have a rugby team on campus?) be allowed to sing the songs rugby players sing?
Make your choice and live with it. That’s what Mary Washington is doing.
*An aside on club nicknames. Mothers, Hammerheads, Mudsharks, Maddogs, Tooters, and I could go on much, much longer, are all examples of names that should die. If your goal is to build a sustainable, respectable on-campus, administrative-friendly program, adopt the damn nickname, colors and logos of your school’s other intercollegiate sports, if at all possible. On some campuses it’s not, and more than likely because of the shenanigans of the club’s forefathers. But if you want to be taken seriously, take yourselves seriously, and part of that process is not carrying on the name conjured up by or tattooed to that loudmouth alum who’s romping up and down your sideline Hamm’s in hand.