I’ve played in a USA Rugby jersey off and on since I was 19 and through three World Cups, and the match that always sticks in my mind goes back to my college days at Chico State. We were playing in our last league game against Stanford, one of our biggest rivals who, more often than not, took the win against us. The score was close, until the last play of the game where my teammate Carrie dove to score and kicked from the corner for the win. Beating a team that had dominated us for so long felt like taking down a giant. It was truly the best moment of my career. I’ll never forget the feeling of pride at what we accomplished, together. I want every person who loves rugby to have the chance to feel the way I did — and that includes trans women athletes.
Before I found rugby, I was an awkward 14 year-old, looking for a community where I could belong. Rugby introduced me to a world where I was welcomed just for being myself. It didn’t matter that I lacked formal sport training or that I hadn’t figured out how to catch. I heard loud and clear that in this sport, having the right attitude is enough, and who you are is enough. Now, I’m urging World Rugby to uphold the values of inclusion I love so much about this sport, and allow trans women to play.
The proposed World Rugby ban on trans athletes attempts to solve a problem that isn’t there. Trans women simply aren’t taking over rugby, and they have no inherent advantage. Zero trans women to date have competed in the Olympics. They aren’t taking over sport, period. In the decades I’ve spent playing rugby, I’ve learned that what truly makes someone an elite athlete isn’t size, speed or strength, but mental toughness, agility, and resilience. If you don’t have the discipline, drive, or growth mindset to progress your game, you won’t make it all the way. If you’re not a student of the game you’re playing, you’re never going to improve beyond natural talent. If you’re not resilient, you won’t have the fortitude to keep going in the face of disappointment, rejection, or injury.
I’m a solid force to be reckoned with in the domestic club game, but at 5’5” and roughly 185 lbs. in season, I’m significantly under the average weight and height for international players in my position. It’s never been a factor for me. I’ve taken on cisgender male athletes in training and female athletes much bigger than me without hesitation because I’m confident in my skill set. Being small didn’t stop me from getting 19 caps. I’ve dedicated myself to getting my rest at night, fueling my body, and pushing myself to be better. Any woman who plays on the elite level with a compact body will tell you her strategy relies on technique. Rugby is a game of mismatches. We all have different body types and sizes. When I play, I look across the field to judge my opponent, go into my toolbox, and pick what I can use to win the one-on-one battle. Not being the biggest, fastest, or strongest forced me to develop a strong set of tools, and evolved me into the player I am today.
What I love about rugby is that it’s never about you as an individual athlete, but you as a member of a team. Rugby is 15 people per team on the field at the same time and a bench full of substitutes, in addition to players that didn’t make that game’s roster. There are so many factors that go into a successful game, and that could never come down to one player.
Recently, I was asked to be on USA Rugby’s Diversity and Inclusion committee. When I first heard about the proposed World Rugby trans athlete ban, I thought, “Why are we even talking about this?” For me, it’s of course about inclusion — trans women are women, and should be able to play. But it’s also about the dangerous door this ban will open into the regulation of women’s bodies. The safety and equity afforded to trans women directly affects that afforded to me as a cis woman. What if someone decides I’m not woman enough, and who are they to decide that?
I’m also a D2 collegiate coach, and I think about the implications this could have for the next generation. I want all athletes — including trans women — to be accepted and not have their existence questioned. If you want to play and put the work in, then I want you to be here.
What I’ve carried with me from that match against Stanford so many years ago is that we won not because of our individual talents as players, but because of who we were as a team. As a global rugby community, the diversity of the players we have makes us stronger. I always saw this as a sport where we promise to give everyone a space to exist as who they are. World Rugby, it’s time to uphold that promise.
Naima Reddick is a USA Rugby player who competed in the 2010, 2014 and 2017 Women's Rugby World Cups.