Kaitlin McCabe, A Rugby Girl

The best place to begin this blog of portraits is with the most insignificant one: my own.

Perhaps “insignificant” is the wrong word to describe my role here, in the world of American rugby. Maybe “promoter,” “fan,” “pundit,” or “friend” is more accurate, and certainly more generous. However, without the idea of insignificance, this blog would never exist.

I confess, my rugby awakening was pretty late in the American rugby revolution. In my junior year of college, I (like every bookish English major) studied in London, conveniently during the Six Nations and heated rounds of the Aviva Premiership. Having befriended my host university’s men’s rugby team at the student union, I had no choice but to sit in the stands as a supportive spectator. But from kickoff of that first live match, I was irrevocably and addictively in love with rugby.

Upon my return to the states, I was dismayed by the lack of investment in the game back home.I struggled to find foreign matches on television, even on online streams, and the coverage of the national teams was abysmal, if existent at all. It became somewhat of a personal campaign to grow the game of rugby in the states (or at least in my own community), and one I took quite seriously.  

How could the fastest-growing game in the United States not receive any media coverage from the nation’s top publications? Why did no one care?

I set it upon myself to make them care. For a month during my summer internship at Sports Illustrated, I implored the managing staff to see the value in covering a growing—albeit untraditionally “American”—sport. My supervisor thought it was a wasted effort; the editor in chief said rugby would have no audience.

Finally, one editor took a chance on me: the Olympics Editor. Like many rugby-related initiatives, my project found the approaching Rio Olympics to be the perfect launchpad. Truly embracing the opportunity of a lifetime, I dove into writing an extensively-researched feature about a relatively-unknown athlete, Carlin Isles, and the growth of the sport in the US. It was published by the end of the summer.

A year later, Isles was on the cover of Time and in every advertisement for the Team USA.

The article certainly generated momentum and launched me full-force into the tiny but vocal pool of rugby media. I was invited to contribute to multiple websites, to run social media accounts, to attend matches, etc, all while developing professional and personal relationships with players, coaches and administrators both on social media and in person.

Yet, the more intimately I became a part of the rugby community—as a fan, a friend, a writer and even the official Director of Communications for the acclaimed Northeast Academy—the fewer opportunities I had to follow my passion of writing about the game.

My status as a young woman was a superficial asset: it got me in the door and allowed my superiors to show they had ‘a girl’ working for them. But it was also an apparent and undeniable curse: despite my vast journalism experience and personal knowledge, I was deemed incapable of covering news, especially men’s news, and limited to mundane match recaps of the often ignored and poorly covered women’s rugby.

I was searching for an outlet to express my frustrations and my true journalistic interests, to strengthen my reputation and involvement in the rugby community while also promoting those of the players, coaches and clubs with which I interact daily.  

And so, Portraits of American Rugby—an intimate look at the well-known and hardly-known individuals that make up in USA rugby, both on and off the pitch—was born.

This isn’t just my story. This is our story.

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