Rough & Tumble: Sitting Down With the St. Louis Crusaders

Marcus Watt, right, makes a breakaway while a Belleville Rowdies player tries to stop him. Photo courtesy St. Louis Crusaders.

Rugby involves a lot of whoring. In fact, the whoring is one reason there’s such a brotherhood between players across the sport. As if that weren’t intriguing enough, they even have hookers on the field (for real!), and all of this goes on under the watchful eye of “the Sir.”

OK, I may have inadvertently led you to believe rugby is like a muddier version of Caligula, so I’ll elaborate. A team always has fifteen players on the field, and if they’re short of that number — as if often the case when traveling — the other team will “whore out” a few players.

“Is that just what the gay teams call it? Or is that across the sport?” I inquire.

“It’s the term everyone uses,” the imposing Kevin Hayes Jr. replies. “And they play hard, too. You’d think they’d be pulling for their own team, but when they’re playing with you, they give it their all.”

The hooker is the man in the middle of the scrum hooking for the ball, and the sir is the referee. But plenty of ink has been spilled over how rugby is played. My goal is to better understand what it’s like to be part of the Crusaders brotherhood, so I sit down with four members of the team to discuss. In attendance were the aforementioned Hayes, 34, Robert Fischer, 28, Daniel Fanning, 29, and Marcus Watt, 25.

I begin by asking what drew them to the sport.

“Boys in short shorts. What you sayin’?” Hayes quips. “The sexiness pulls you in, but we’re all just players on the field.”

Fanning, who like Hayes, has a military background, says he’s always been athletic, playing football in high school and enjoying cycling and volleyball.

“I found rugby through a friend. I wanted to join to get to know more people and develop friendships through sportsmanship once I moved back to St. Louis.”

Watt moved to St. Louis from his native Chicago, where he played on a gay team. “I jumped back into it with these guys. Made it easier to meet people here.”

Fischer, unlike the others, didn’t consider himself to be athletic. “A buddy played in college, and it seemed he was always bloody, bruised and battered. I moved to L.A. for a few years, and when I returned, I was ready to try new things and came to practice. I was apprehensive at first if I could do it, but everyone was incredibly friendly, making it easier. I went to one practice, kept going, and then before I knew it, I was in a real game.”

James Stewart (with ball) is known as Mittens. Photo courtesy St. Louis Crusaders.

The Third Half

“The third half is what players call party time after the game,” Watt says. “In Chicago, I played against a mainstream team called the Chicago Riot. I loved, loved, loved playing them. Some teams don’t like playing against gay players or have issues with it, but they were always fun, always had good spirit. Even though they were straight, when we’d go to the sponsor bar afterwards, we’d have a dance off and underwear contest, and they’d bring out the Speedos and jockstraps.”

Rather than getting hotel rooms, whenever possible traveling players will stay with members of the host team. Fanning hosted four players from New Orleans, taking them on a bar crawl, beginning with Third Half at Just John and ending the night by shutting down JJ’s.

“Were you muddy all night?” I ask.

“Haha, no, we weren’t muddy at all. The ground was dry, so we were dirty at Just John but took showers before Rehab,” Fanning says.

“I picture the field being permanently muddy for some reason,” I say, laughing.

Fanning replies, “It’s nice when it is. Getting tackled on dry ground hurts more.”


Home Bar Advantage

Just John is the sponsor and the home bar for the Crusaders, and the team feels they can really cut loose there. “It’s rugby — we drink a lot, and everyone knows who we are. We go in after a game, all dirty and they’re just like, ‘There go the rugby boys.’ It’s really a family vibe there,” Fischer says.

“Traveling around, you go to some teams’ home bar and you can’t even tell it’s theirs, but Just John goes all out. We come in, and the Crusaders are all over the televisions. If we throw a party, they decorate for us and push it on social media, and the staff are really welcoming to the visiting players. They provide our jerseys and are always checking in on us, seeing what we need,” Fischer explains.

Joining the Brotherhood

The guys concede that from the outside rugby looks incredibly intimidating.

“Looks rough on the field, but we’re all queens,” Watt jokes. But they stress that they have a need and a place for all types of guys, and increasing membership is a key part of their goals in building the organization. They’ve got big guys, little guys, trans guys, straight guys. And if you can only give a few minutes here and there, they’ll take it. “We don’t care if you’re not the most talented at rugby. If you can only play ten minutes, give us your all in those ten minutes, and we’ll make sure to put you in.” Fischer says.

“It looks rougher when you’re watching it,” Hayes says. “Looks hard as fuck, but rugby is fucking fun.”

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