Celebrating Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and to celebrate, we are highlighting black athletes and leaders that have influenced the sport of rugby throughout the world.  

Each week our Academy coaches shared the story of one individual, their impact on the sport of rugby, and how they exemplify one of the Play Rugby Values-in-Action.

Phaidra Knight – Go Forward

Phaidra Knight is a World Rugby Hall of Famer who played as a Flanker for the US National team for 20 years. From 1997 – 2017, she dominated the game of Women’s Rugby and was named the USA Rugby Player of the decade in 2010.  

Today, Phaidra is the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and can be found on both NBC and ESPN as a Rugby Analyst. During the pandemic, she launched PSK Collective – a collective of female athletes on a mission to have a positive influence on young girls. The Collective has designed and launched a clothing line that is dedicated to inclusivity, empowerment, and equality by supporting female athletes through the Women’s Sports Foundation (you can check out their website here: https://pskcollective.com/)  

Phaidra credits the sport of rugby for teaching her the attributes of teamwork, leadership and effective communication. She has a strong Go Forward mindset, which is reflected in the advice that she gives to young players (especially young women) about joining the sport of rugby: Phaidra Knight’s advice for young players! 

Naya Tapper – Get There

Naya Tapper, our very own Play Rugby Ambassador, is a 7’s and 15’s winger for the US Women’s National team. She is currently dominating both on and off the field as she continues to build her own brand. She uses her platform in sports to address social issues and is very outspoken on how the Black Lives Matter Movement directly affects her.  

 #ELERSC is the name of Naya’s female rugby camps, which she created in order to create a safe space for women and young girls to learn, grow, and enjoy rugby. She always has her own Youtube Channel where she interviews her teammates and leads ab workouts for the public. Watch this video to find out more about all of the different aspects of Naya’s career to date: https://www.world.rugby/video/374284?lang=en 

Naya Tapper’s strong Get There mentality is perfectly displayed in her success today. Check out the personal message she sent to our Academy players: Naya Video Message

Lucius Banks Jr. – Play What You See

n 1912, Lucius Banks, Jr. Became the first American professional rugby player (even though he never actually played in America!). Lucius was stationed in West Point, NY from 1908-1912 as a member of the 9th Cavalry of the US Army known as the “Colored Unit”. He played as a Quarterback for West Point’s football team and was scouted by Hunslet Rugby League Club. The Club offered Lucius a year-long contract to play professional rugby in northern England. He played as a winger for his first 4 matches and scored in all of them. After those matches, the Club moved Lucius to 10 (flyhalf) to utilize is Quarterback skills.  

After that year, Lucius moved back America and resided in Boston, Massachusetts. There, he proceeded with his military career serving on the 349th Field Artillery unit in WWI. After the war, he served on the Boston police force for 27 years and his son Richard L. Banks, went on to become a prominent Civil Rights lawyer.  

Lucius Banks, Jr., showed us what it means to Play What You See when he was scouted by Hunslet Rugby League Club and made history! 

Nelson Mandela – Review My Film

Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 in a small village in South Africa’s Cape Province. He would go on to lead a nation, change lives, and inspire countless people along the way. 

Mandela was only 44 years old when he was given a life sentence by the apartheid (institutionalized segregation) regime that governed South Africa for his leadership of the African National Congress, an organization outlawed by the government for its anti-apartheid actions and positions. 

In the mid-1980s, the world slowly awakened to the suffering of black South Africans under apartheid rule. And while Mandela remained behind bars, his message had never been louder. As anti-apartheid rallies grew, so did awareness of Mandela’s struggle for freedom for black South Africans. His message was so powerful that a protest song named “Free Nelson Mandela,” written and performed by the ska band The Special AKA after attending such a rally, became a top ten hit in the UK, and a legendary anthem worldwide. 

Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and in 1994, apartheid ended and and he became President through the first election in which Blacks had the right to vote. He assumed the Presidency of a country deeply divided, and so began the difficult work of changing South Africa into a multicultural democracy. 

In 1995, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup. At the time, rugby was one of the institutions that remained a symbol of apartheid and white dominance. It was played predominantly by Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch, German and French settlers, with only one black player on the national team. However, Mandela saw an opportunity to utilize the South African (Springboks) rugby team as a way to unite one of the most divided countries towards a common goal. 

Mandela openly supported the team, wearing the Springbok’s jersey at the final and eventually taking the field to present the winning trophy to Captain, Francois Pienaar. He said, “It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.” This is a what Review My Film looks like. Mandela used lessons from the past to look forward, providing a message was of peace, justice and freedom, an inclusive campaign that all people could support. 

For more information on Nelson Mandela and how he used rugby to unite an entire country, watch the movie Invictus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwIok5qY5C8