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.

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.

Inclusiveness leads to bigger player pools, bigger player pools leads to more talent, more talent leads to better competition, and better competition begets better athletes. 

Julian Watts

Name: Julian Watts

Main Position: Outside Centre

Years with the club: Approaching 7

Years playing rugby: Also approaching 7

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

Past clubs you’ve played for: Lion all the way.

Awards or Special recognition you’ve received: 2014 7s Developmental Player of the Year, 2016 D2 Backs Player of the Year

I feel the people running the show in rugby usually feel they’ve either done enough for race relations or that there really is no way they could be part of the problem. They work with us or hire a black coach once in a while, that’s enough for them

Julian Watts

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

I think being black has made my experience with rugby really interesting. On one hand, I usually find that in disagreements between myself and a non-POC member of my club, the administration will usually side with them or see me as the aggressor, which i find weird because I’m really not an aggressive person. I feel the people running the show in rugby usually feel they’ve either done enough for race relations or that there really is no way they could be part of the problem. They work with us or hire a black coach once in a while, that’s enough for them. 

However, on a more positive note, I’ve made a lot of friends pretty easily with the other black players because we really do not see enough of us out there. I’ve made friends on touring teams, teams we’re playing against in friendly matches, and even on our rival teams both on and off the pitch just because we recognize the need for each other in our space. Friendships I would never have had the chance to nurture otherwise happen almost magically because I see them and see myself. 

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.

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?

Rugby is definitely becoming more diverse from what I’ve experienced, but there is still a long way to go. I think it’s helpful that the best teams in the world have such large native player pools, so it’s not like all of the teams are comprised entirely of non-POC players. The team leaders and and World Rugby’s governing body are still comprised of mostly white men though so I believe there is still a level to permeate. There is so much potential for good if rugby were to continue to become more diverse and inclusive, I get a bit eager just thinking about it. It’s like wondering what the NBA or MLB would be like if they never integrated the games. Imagine Larry Bird being the biggest NBA legend to ever live while CPA LeBron James is hopping over you in your Tuesday night Rec league. Inclusiveness leads to bigger player pools, bigger player pools leads to more talent, more talent leads to better competition, and better competition begets better athletes. 

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?

Just seven short years ago, the Lions were not as diverse as they are now but I can see the club making strides to get there. The player base has changed and there a lot more American-born POC rounding out the numbers these days. I would like to see the club finally choose a POC to captain the Lions though. For as long as I’ve played here, that has not been the case and we have had plenty of qualified candidates. I think that would be a nice next step. 

Rugby is definitely becoming more diverse from what I’ve experienced, but there is still a long way to go. 

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.

I think being black has made my experience with rugby really interesting. On one hand, I usually find that in disagreements between myself and a non-POC member of my club, the administration will usually side with them or see me as the aggressor, which i find weird because I’m really not an aggressive person. 

The team leaders and and World Rugby’s governing body are still comprised of mostly white men though so I believe there is still a level to permeate. There is so much potential for good if rugby were to continue to become more diverse and inclusive, I get a bit eager just thinking about it. It’s like wondering what the NBA or MLB would be like if they never integrated the games. Imagine Larry Bird being the biggest NBA legend to ever live while CPA LeBron James is hopping over you in your Tuesday night Rec league.

Julian Watts

I feel the people running the show in rugby usually feel they’ve either done enough for race relations or that there really is no way they could be part of the problem. They work with us or hire a black coach once in a while, that’s enough for them

I’ve made a lot of friends pretty easily with the other black players because we really do not see enough of us out there. I’ve made friends on touring teams, teams we’re playing against in friendly matches, and even on our rival teams both on and off the pitch just because we recognize the need for each other in our space. Friendships I would never have had the chance to nurture otherwise happen almost magically because I see them and see myself. 

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.
Julian Watts (top row, fourth from the right) playing with the inaugural ROOTS squad at the New York 7s in 2018.

The team leaders and and World Rugby’s governing body are still comprised of mostly white men though so I believe there is still a level to permeate. There is so much potential for good if rugby were to continue to become more diverse and inclusive, I get a bit eager just thinking about it. It’s like wondering what the NBA or MLB would be like if they never integrated the games. Imagine Larry Bird being the biggest NBA legend to ever live while CPA LeBron James is hopping over you in your Tuesday night Rec league.

Inclusiveness leads to bigger player pools, bigger player pools leads to more talent, more talent leads to better competition, and better competition begets better athletes. 

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.