We love our underdog stories here in America. All you have to do to see evidence of this love is check out some of the biggest sports movies of the last 40 years: Rocky, Hoosiers, Rudy, and the list goes on. Some of our biggest sporting memories are also in the David vs. Goliath mold, i.e. the 1980 Olympic hockey team. If you have ever watched any of our Olympic coverage you would know that NBC loves to play stories of how some athlete overcame adversity to win gold.
Maybe that is why rugby hasn’t quite caught on in the American sports psyche? If most Americans were really exposed to rugby there is no doubt they would fall in love with it. The sport combines the physicality of American football, the hand skills of baseball, and the teamwork of basketball and hockey. What’s not to love?
While that big moment on the field for the U.S. may be a while, off the field an American rugby company had their own success as an underdog. You may remember that last month Ralph Lauren said that they would be closing their Rugby brand. The reason for closing the brand had nothing to do with economics as the it was consistently in the black, but it had all to do with one man: Jim Carlberg.
For those unfamiliar with Carlberg, he’s the founder of a rugby clothing line that was sued by Ralph Lauren over the use of the name Rugby. Ralph Lauren wanted to have exclusive rights to the name so they sued everyone associated with it in the clothing industry. Old Navy took one look at the legal bill and decided it wouldn’t be worth it to continue their brand, but Carlberg, fighting on behalf of other small American rugby manufacturers, refused to quit. After a lengthy legal case that almost cost Carlberg his house, he won. Ralph Lauren has until next February to shuttered its website and stores.
This case is a great example of the fortitude of the American rugby public and of what could be possible if we continue to put our shoulder to the wheel. Too often we are given completely bogus reasons why the U.S. will never be good at rugby or why we will never train the right players. For example, in the wake of Carlin Isles becoming a YouTube sensation some comments of various websites suggest that his talent would go to waste just because he plays for the United States. What an insult.
A similar example is the current situation with Samu Manoa. As we pointed out the other day, Manoa is stuck between a rock and hard place when it comes to representing the U.S. and playing for Northampton. Essentially Northampton have bullied Manoa into refusing U.S. call-ups by incentivizing his pay or dropping unofficial hints. It’s a situation in which we need to take a stand as a rugby public.
We also need to show determination and stand up against those in our own country who dismiss rugby. Similarly, we need to be strong in rooted out the negative aspects of the game (unruly drinking, fighting, etc) that make school administrators nervous to fully endorse rugby. It’s a task of epic proportion, but as Carlberg showed, it can be done. Standing up for rugby in America may not always be easy, but if we can persevere, maybe we can become another in the long line of American underdog success stories.
Curtis Reed is the editor and founder of This Is American Rugby and can be found at www.thisisamericanrugby.com or on Twitter @ThisIsAmerRugby
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