For politicos and Hill staffers, Washington’s Renegade Rugby Football Club is a way to escape the hectic hassle of work while playing a sport they see as political in nature.
“Being able to blow off steam by hitting people really hard helps relieve tension,” says David Joseph, political analyst for the United Food and Commercial Workers. “And there’s a direct parallel between politics and rugby. The team is definitely more important than the individual in both politics and rugby.”
As a former campaign staffer for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and ex-Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Joseph has been with the team since 2005, playing the position of prop.
“A prop is equivalent to a defensive or offensive tackle in American football,” he said. “Props are the biggest guys on the field. Their job is to make short distance tackles or push the other team around.”
In rugby, teams focus on controlling possession of a four-panel oval ball. To score, the team must gain ground on the field, taking the ball across the opponent’s goal area. Rugby rules do not allow players to throw the ball forward, forcing them to run or kick the ball toward the end zone.
Similar to football, players regularly tackle the opposition, but without the luxury of shoulder pads or helmets. Bill Huff takes the brunt of the team’s biggest hits.
“Like any sort of contact sport, injuries happen. I’m actually right now in the middle of an injury after getting a forearm to the face,” he said.
Established in the fall of 1998, the Renegades joined the Potomac Rugby Union as a Division III club and have competed throughout the area.
The league claims to be the first men’s rugby club in the United States to actively recruit gay men and men of color. As a gay member of the team, Huff is appreciative of how the team gives back.
“We walk in the Pride Parade, we have a booth and we do team outreach at non-LGBT festivals like Adams Morgan Day,” Huff said.
While some members of the team are attracted to work done off the field, Joe Heaton joined the team for a physical challenge.
“It’s a really good hybrid of a sport that requires strength and a sport that requires endurance,” he said. “So it kind of appealed to me in that regard.”
Heaton is legislative director for Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), a former NFL offensive tackle.
“He thinks it’s good that we have a lot of athletes in the office so he has always, as you can imagine, placed a lot of emphasis on physical fitness and staying in shape, so he enjoys the fact that we are all engaged in athletic endeavors,” Heaton says.
And then there’s the competition.
Dave Turner, former finance manager for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, compares playing for the Renegades to a political campaign and said he sees the sport as a “game of wills.”
“I worked on the campaign side, and campaigns are inherently competitive, so that’s certainly something I translate to the team,” he said. “When you work on the Hill, you’re part of a team and you work with lots of different people and personalities to will the team toward a singular goal, just like in rugby.”