Richard Peralta, on the New Zealand All Blacks vs. USA Eagles match at Soldier Field that was particularly meaningful for him as a gay rugby player and fan of the game
This is the first post in our new series, From the Front Lines . . . of Sports, where readers share personal stories of their experiences attending live sports events. The posts can explore aspects of the game itself, the feeling of being there, of spending time with family or friends, or anything else connected to the experience. And it can be any type of sports event, big or small, from the NCAA Basketball tourney with buddies, the SuperBowl with friends, on a baseball trip with your kid, or to a minor league baseball game with the family.
The remainder of this post is the words of reader, Richard Peralta, who shares a deeply meaningful experience from earlier this month as a gay Filipino rugby player and fan:
Being born and raised in St. Louis by Filipino immigrant parents, I’ve developed an interesting awareness for race. Furthermore, coming out at the age of fifteen in the late 90s contributed to my awareness of simply how different I am.
The sports I played were limited, not just because of my physical limitations or capabilities, but from my parents’ perspective, “for my safety.” Whether their hesitance was because I had shown interest in full contact sports or due to my orientation, I’m unsure. I could see them being concerned for breaking my leg in football, or being targeted and tackled rougher for being gay.
As a successful competitive martial artist at the time, I can see their concern, but I never got to play on the football field. It wasn’t until years later that I had my chance, and found my true love; Rugby.
An international sport that touts a history of inclusivity, it was hard to see proof of this claim stateside, as most folks here don’t care much for the gentleman’s sport. But all of that changed for me on November 1st, 2014.
I had played several years for an IGRAB rugby club, which stands for International Gay Rugby Association and Board. I played against and with other non-IGRAB teams, but I always thought the straight men I played were being nice, because I attempted to hit harder in matches, and in my mind was paying a “gay tax.” Much in the same way that I’ve been pressured to prove myself to my heterosexual counterparts in other aspects of my life. But on that day in Soldier Field, in my old stomping grounds of Chicago, being a queer rugby player made absolutely no difference.
We were all there, thousands of us, for one thing. To witness rugby, played by our USA Eagles home team and the New Zealand All Blacks, currently the best team in the world. I’ve never felt more welcome, safer, and at home in a sports arena than ever. Somehow I landed a seat in the front row by the try zone. Sitting alone, the kind folks around and next to me cheered for the love of them game, even if some had no understanding of it. And even if we all knew USA was going to lose hardcore.
Veteran players, rookies, friends and families of players, all soaking in what we knew was a once in a lifetime experience. For me the experience was so much more than the huge Cheshire grin on my face.
To see players on that pitch who looked like me, in build and skin color, in a setting that’s celebrated with every ounce of energy from each attendee, was life changing.
To tailgate with my gay and allied rugby brothers in the parking lot and hardly deal with discrimination, was something I never dreamed would happen at such a large scale event. But then again, I think anyone would be scared of a rugby player, gay or straight. And the one moment that someone’s ignorance popped up, the amount of support from nearby tailgaters and on-site security was amazing. It confirmed that rugby truly is international and inclusive.
There’s a reason why rugby clubs, unlike other sport, historically share a pint after each match. It elicits a solidarity as ruggers. Ruggers young, old, brown, white, stout, slim, light or heavy footed. We’ve a love of a beautiful game, a game who’s culture clearly loves us back.
Have a story from the front lines of sports?
We’d love to hear from you. Please send your submission to myself at [email protected] or to our Sports co-editor Kimanzi at [email protected], or contact us via Twitter @MichaelKasdan and @KimanziC using the #GMPFrontLineSports and #GMPSports hashtags.
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