THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Black Sabbath: BYU move shoulda put Sunday in spotlight

No Sabbath can stop this...Flickr/

As my neighbor would say, let's face it– women's collegiate rugby doesn't exactly burn up the airwaves. Before last week, I didn't even know women's rugby was a sport, and I certainly was unaware that anything about it would prove newsworthy. I was wrong on both counts, though you'd have to search pretty hard to know it.


If I asked you to tell me all you knew about the 1924 Summer Olympics, you probably wouldn't have anything to say. You might recall that the Games took place in Paris, but that's all. It wouldn't be until I hummed, na na na na naaaaah naah, na na nah nah naaaah, that you would remember the movie Chariots of Fire and realize you know something very important about the 1924 Summer Olympics: Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary cum distance runner, refused to run his best event, the 100 meters, because it took place on a Sunday. (Liddell went on to win the gold and set a world record in the 400 meters.)

Fast forward 86 years, and you'll end up at the women's club rugby national collegiate quarterfinals, an event for which there are no medals and about which even fewer movies are made. The quarterfinals are scheduled to take place on April 18, a Sunday, and the BYU team, ranked sixth in Division I, forfeited the game rather than break the Sabbath. 

Not playing on Sunday is a tradition in BYU sports, and USA Rugby had never scheduled a Sunday game for the school before. This year's Round 16 slot was a simple oversight, but one that USA Rugby didn't rectify, despite assuring BYU it would. On that assurance, the team raised $10,000, bought nonrefundable airplane tickets, and headed to the tournament.

Back when Liddell refused to run on Sunday, the world sat up and took notice. You might remember from the movie that Liddell's decision angered a lot of Olympic officials and very nearly caused a major scandal, bringing even the Prince of Wales into the fray. Things have certainly changed since 1924.

Type "BYU" into the search box on both ESPN's and Sports Illustrated's websites, and you'll find nary a word about the BYU women's rugby team. 

Much is made of God in sports these days. Can you imagine a baseball or basketball game without at least two or three players kissing their fingers and pointing to the sky, or a boxing match without the victor giving Him the glory? It's almost impossible to calculate the on-air minutes and printed pages dedicated to former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his profession of faith, especially after his controversial Super Bowl commercial. But when it comes to sacrificing for that faith, it's a whole different story. Actually, it's no story at all.

If you search the same magazines and websites that don't mention BYU's rugby team, you will find a lot of information about Tebow and which NFL team is going to draft him. Will it be New England? It certainly doesn't seem like Dallas. What you won't find is anyone who points out that the NFL plays on Sundays, which means Tebow would have to play on Sundays, a little subject about which he hasn't made mention either.  When Tebow is first photographed as a professional football player, if it is with "John 3:16" stenciled onto his eye black, no one will point out the irony.

The BYU women's rugby team may not be getting as much attention as Eric Liddell did in his day, but they do have something in common. If athletes put religion first, they run the risk of being condemned and vilified (ask Muhammed Ali). If anyone actually knew about the BYU women's rugby team and their decision to forfeit last Sunday's game, you can be sure the team would receive its share of criticism and negative attention. I reckon the team can thank God nobody knows.


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.