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Rugby Player Phaidra Knight Retires After 18 Years



The Rugby World Cup is underway in Ireland, where teams of women from 12 countries, including the United States, are rucking and scrumming in pursuit of the world title.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Marsters trying to get past Naoupu - a really good chuck.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Brilliant pass here from the fullback Trey Hoon (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: Brushes off Wunderfinder (ph), comes back again, gets rid of two more. So she's beaten three.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Thomas with a handoff - still going - Kristen Thomas with the game's first score.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A fixture of the U.S. rugby scene is Phaidra Knight. She just announced her retirement from the sport after 18 years as a USA Eagle and three World Cups. But that doesn't mean she's missing the 2017 World Cup this year. She'll be there, too, broadcasting with NBC Sports in Dublin instead. This week on Out of Bounds, women's rugby. Rugby Magazine's 2010 player of the decade Phaedra Knight joins us now from New York. Welcome.

PHAIDRA KNIGHT: Thank you. I'm stoked to be here with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm stoked to have you. For those of us who may not know much about rugby, can you tell us the positions you played, prop, then flanker? And what do those things mean?

KNIGHT: (Laughter) A prop is one of the two positions on the field in the scrum, where they - you literally prop the hooker, who's a player, obviously, in the middle of the two props, up. And props typically are your strongest or some of your strongest players. That was the position I played in the 2002 World Cup. Immediately after that World Cup, I moved to the position of flanker. And this is how the position was sold to me, right?


KNIGHT: I was told you get to essentially set the limits of the game by testing the referee and what they're going to tolerate.


KNIGHT: So you're the craziest player on the field. You can run like a free radical and tackle people, just destroy.


KNIGHT: Yeah. Your goal in life is to make the fly-half's life miserable. And so I was sold at that point.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter). What was it that attracted you? Why did you find it so compelling?

KNIGHT: Probably the surface thing was that I was able to run as fast as I could and run through people. That was emancipating to me. But the biggest magnet to the game - into the sport - was how inclusive and accepting the community was. And for me, I was just this small-town girl from Georgia - didn't quite know who I was or all of what I was. I knew that I had probably a lot of anger issues that I needed to get through, a lot of identity issues to work through. And it didn't matter. That was the one community that didn't care. And they accepted me and everyone else that knocked on their door.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We often hear about men channeling their anger issues or medical issues into sports. We don't hear as much about women doing that in the same way - especially sort of aggressive sports. Do you think the stigma has changed? Do you think that this has shifted now?

KNIGHT: I think that there are a number of women who come to the sport because, you know, something very deeply calls them that will allow them to be able to express themselves, right? And it's not that rugby's full of just angry people. I think that that life is full of - I mean, we all have anger.


KNIGHT: And we all struggle with that. We all have different degrees of it. We also have different ways of expressing it. And this offers an opportunity to express that in the way that men do it, right? This violent yet controlled sport that's really kind of a form of art.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rugby player and now rugby commentator Phaidra Knight, thank you so much.

KNIGHT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.