During Black History Month, we wanted to profile a few black Lions who have not only made major contributions to the club on and off the pitch, but continue to make a huge impact in the rugby community at large. We wanted to let their voices and experiences be heard so we can learn from them, and hopefully continue opening up the sport we love to communities of color.
Kim “Kimbo” Dacres

For me, being a rugby player has also set the standard for teamwork amongst folks of different backgrounds. It has strongly influenced my leadership in the classroom, art installations, schools, and other professional spaces. Rugby was an outlet for finding a queer friendly community in NYC and solidified my identity as a female athlete.

Kimbo

For over 30 years, the Village Lions have prided themselves on being one of the most competitive, inclusive, and diverse rugby clubs, not only in New York City, but in the entire country. 

During Black History Month, we wanted to profile a few black Lions who have not only made major contributions to the club on and off the pitch, but continue to make a huge impact in the rugby community at large. We wanted to let their voices and experiences be heard so we can learn from them, and hopefully continue opening up the sport we love to communities of color.

Name:

Kim “Kimbo” Dacres

Main Position:

Mostly 9, but really anywhere 9-14

Years with the club:

I joined in Feb 2009. We stop counting after 10 years.

Years playing rugby:

I started in 2004. My high school basketball coach told me to try rugby in college. She thought it would be the better sport for me because I liked passing and playing defense.

Alma Mater if you played in college, or first club if you didn’t play in college:

Williams Women’s Rugby Football Club (WWRFC) at Williams College. Shoutout to Gina Coleman, my college rugby coach and the multicultural dean for the college at the time. She is Black and Puerto Rican and from the Bronx. On my school visit she promised me that rugby would be like my family and that there were other brown folks on the team. Actually about 40% of my college team were people of color.

Past clubs you’ve played for: N/A

Awards or Special recognition you’ve received: Rookie of the Year (2009); Fucking Cardinal (2009); Back of the Year (2011); Women’s 15s Coach (2017).

Profession (optional): Visual Artist and Teacher

I also think rugby has over-relied on it’s acceptance of queer communities to also mean equal and blanket acceptance for black, brown, asian, and latinx identities on a team. But, it takes a lot to overcome a history of white male Europeans. We see this on the professional and olympic levels and I hope USA Rugby and other rugby-related organizations can get themselves together and do an institutional examination of how rugby can be more diverse in the US. We need to see the big data first.

How do you think being a black has shaped your experience as a rugby player? Have your experiences been positive or negative?

Overall, my experience in rugby has been about 70-30 positive/negative. On the positive side I’ve gained life long friends, got to play excellent rugby with really talented athletes, and really had more fun than sleep. I’ve been happy/drunk/high too many times to count and even more times that I’ve forgotten. I’ve traveled the length of the East Coast playing rugby and to countries abroad. I’ve felt a sense of belonging (as an adult) to a community. A rugby ball, crest, or gear basically serves as a social passport. For me, being a rugby player has also set the standard for teamwork amongst folks of different backgrounds. It has strongly influenced my leadership in the classroom, art installations, schools, and other professional spaces. Rugby was an outlet for finding a queer friendly community in NYC and solidified my identity as a female athlete.

However, I also think being black in rugby means you’ve probably experienced a few things before getting to the sport and definitely while in it. A lot of the experiences mirror life at a PWI [“Predominantly White Institution” – editor] and life in general as a brown person walking around the world. All the examples below have happened to me throughout my rugby lifetime.

– Attended a PWI

– Mostly white teammates. Plus you’re probably one of the first POC’s they’ve known intimately in adulthood

– A white coach unfamiliar with brown people

– Stereotypical jokes about skin tone, dancing ability, athletic ability (assumptions of strength and speed), and sexual prowess, etc. from friends, teammates, and others, usually during the social or a post-practice drink up

– Have had your voice imitated in that cringy high pitch allegedly black sounding way

– Called “aggressive” or “angry” on/off the pitch by the ref at least once

– Confused for another completely different looking black person (For me – Kelly, Des, Erin, Em… whom I all love. so maybe a compliment)

– Been the only POC at an away game (nothing worst than being the only negro on a pitch outside Albany)

– Played drunk therapist to that waaaaay drunker white person trying to be “woke”

– Assigned to start the dance party

In spite of these occurrences, being black in rugby also means you continue to come back even when the aforementioned dumb shit happens. It’s usually not everyone and sometimes I’ve found it entertaining. In the best case scenario addressing issues usually is an uncomfortable teachable moment.

Do you believe that rugby is becoming more or less diverse? What are some positive outcomes you can think of by making rugby more diverse and inclusive?

I think rugby is becoming more diverse, especially as an alternative to football and a continuation for basketball and soccer players. Every year there are more ethnicity/values based teams competing in tournaments and I believe Roots rugby is a great example of this. Plus, the addition of POC coaches, women coaches, refs, and player-coaches has been really inspiring to witness in my time with club alone – Mary (RIP), Erin, Houser, Jackie Finlan, Hayden, Cocqui, Koma, Kimo, Angela, Cat, Collins, etc. Aside from that, I worry that the pipeline for POC coaches and players comes only through PWI undergraduate institutions, which barely trickle out POCs, much less POCs who survived years of rugby. Then they need to find a job, place to live, and a team to play for. So I think getting rugby in public school leagues (NY’s PSAL) with indoor/touch/flag rugby is the future. The more we can teach the game to adolescents and increase our capacity to teach new players, the better we’ll be. I also think rugby has over-relied on it’s acceptance of queer communities to also mean equal and blanket acceptance for black, brown, asian, and latinx identities on a team. But, it takes a lot to overcome a history of white male Europeans. We see this on the professional and olympic levels and I hope USA Rugby and other rugby-related organizations can get themselves together and do an institutional examination of how rugby can be more diverse in the US. We need to see the big data first.

I think getting rugby in public school leagues (NY’s PSAL) with indoor/touch/flag rugby is the future. The more we can teach the game to adolescents and increase our capacity to teach new players, the better we’ll be.

Kimbo

The Village Lions prides itself on being a diverse and inclusive club. Has this always been your experience with the Lions? If not, how have things changed over the years?

The Lions have always been diverse – ages, professions, and hometowns. But, this has not always been my experience on the Lions in terms of ethnicity. I think we all agree that we can grow here. There is a self-effacing tendency to flatten some identities into a monolith and expand deeply on others. Concretely, the diversity of the club has evolved specifically with the influx of Lions of color since about 2011. We’ve seen celebrations of Asian Nation, Sista Nation, and a yearly official presence at Pride. However, playing a sport like rugby, in a city, like NYC, is a fiscal privilege. I’m just happy to be a part of that change as a player and former coach in order to help evolve what it means to be a Lion. 

Anything else you would like to add?

So who’s going to do a Lions documentary? I’d love to help.