Rugby player builds bridges and breaks barriers on the pitch

Sports can bring different people together from across many different countries and cultures spanning hemispheres to unite those who would otherwise be distant.

The FIFA World Cup is perhaps one of the most prominent examples of people being united through sport. The 2014 World Cup massed a total of 3.2 billion viewers from six continents. Almost 30 percent of National Hockey League players are from Europe, bringing fans and players from both Europe and North America together through the sport.

One person who has experienced the many different cultures encountered through sports is Elijah Banks, a junior accounting major at John Brown University. Banks was born in California and lived there for four years before moving to Texas, then to Washington for almost twelve years before finally settling in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Banks played basketball and baseball until he reached middle school. His uncle helped him develop a passion for football and kindled his love for sports. It wasn’t until eighth grade that Banks discovered rugby. He has been playing for the past eight years. He discovered wrestling shortly after and competed in matches until the end of his high school career.

Rugby is a sport close to Banks’ heart and one he said he has grown most fond of. One of the things Banks enjoys the most about playing rugby is the traditional culture.

“Rugby is culture and the culture is based around tradition,” Banks said. “They have their pregame traditions and all the unspoken rules about the game. that even if you were to go play a game in Ireland and a game in New Zealand, you’d feel those unspoken rules regardless of where you are in the world.” One of the biggest ways rugby has affected how Banks lives is the concept of representation by association. He said he tries to put rugby in a good light and buck the negative stereotypes surrounding the sport. “I know going about my day that I’m representing more than just myself,” Banks said. “I’m representing an entire team. . .I’m representing rugby across the world at my school to my friends.”

Banks said he has experienced a lot of new experiences through rugby, but one thing he sees as absent from the game is players using rugby as a platform for their personal views, like many players in the NFL have done. Banks said that the smaller stage is something that makes the players less likely to use it as a political platform. Where an NFL player will get a full stadium of people watching, Banks said, “I might have, on a great day, 100 people watching me and half of them are my friends and family.”

The brotherhood and the camaraderie of rugby is something Banks has used to help him be a better person.

“My biggest thought on the field is thinking about what’s happening next … looking at where I am at and putting myself in a position to help my team,” Banks said. “When I’m on the field I hardly think about the other team. I’m out there to set me and the 14 other players on my team up for success.” Banks said he tries to translate this mentality of being there for your brother into his everyday life.

“Whether you play rugby or not, I try to be there for people,” Banks said. “If someone asks me for a lift I try to be there and if not, I try and set something up so that somebody else I know can come and get them. I want to be there for people.”

According to his teammates, Banks is motivated and driven, even when the odds are against him. Biblical and theological studies major Zachary Bower, senior rugby player at JBU, said that Banks’ best quality is “his motivation. Watching him push himself and others on the pitch, especially during games, is inspirational.”