In the last year, I’ve heard the term “spoiled millionaires” way too often in regards to pro athletes. Personally, I don’t agree with calling anyone that – but tonight, I double dare you to go that route when I talk about the newest champions in Seattle.
You may have never heard of the Seattle Seawolves. After all, this was their first official season. And rugby, while growing in popularity, isn’t exactly considered a mainstream sport in these parts.
But you don’t have to love – or even like – rugby to relate to these athletes. If you’ve ever had a passion project, this is theirs. It’s their labor of love.
To put things in perspective, the Seawolves are believed to have a salary cap around $350,000 for its entire team. To compare, that’s much less than the minimum amount one rookie player will make this season in the NFL. The Seawolves also hold most of their practices at nights, so players can spend the rest of their days trying to earn a living wage.
These athletes have never seen dollar signs at the end of a rigorous tunnel. That’s not why they’re here. The sport of rugby is simply in their blood.
And a championship only increases their exposure to the casual fan. In turn, it hopefully allows the players to make an even greater impact on the community in which they live. Like the Seawolves’ Oli Kalifi, who grew up in a rough situation in White Center, until a friend organized a youth rugby team when he was 13.
“You know, it’s sad to say that a majority of those kids that I grew up playing with on that team are either incarcerated or have passed on,” Kalifi said. “But I’m grateful for it because he introduced me to it and from it, I’ve learned things like community and giving back. And I learned that I was actually good at it, which is something that changed the direction in my life.”
Kalifi went on to represent our country in the Rugby World Cup. Just like you or me, he also braved the freezing cold weather to cheer on the Seahawks in a championship parade. And while the Seawolves might not get the same welcome home, I imagine that he might be able to influence one more hard-luck kid to try a sport he loves.
“It’s a good avenue for kids that are in rough situations to be able to funnel their energy into and be able to create opportunities for themselves,” Kalifi said.
You can’t bad mouth a sport when that’s a result. Not if you care about the community in which we live.
Championship or not, this was a successful inaugural season for Major League Rugby in Seattle. They sold out all their home games in Tukwila, and whether or not you cared or even heard about them, there was enough buzz throughout rugby circles and beyond to warrant staying power and growth over the years to come. They've already doubled their season length for next year.
Again, rugby doesn’t have to be your thing. It’s certainly not mine. But the Seawolves championship is to be respected – for both the accomplishment it represents on the field, and for the future good it will bring.