The penultimate month of the year for most represents short days, fireworks and early preparations for Christmas; but for many in rugby it is synonymous with Movember. A month in which men grow moustaches and boys try to, all in aid of men’s health.
Movember had humble beginnings. Starting in Australia in 2003 with just 30 men and no money raised, it has now become a global phenomenon. £443 million had been raised by 2015, 1250 men’s health projects had been funded by 2017 and as of last year over five million ‘Mo Bros and Sistas’ had taken part in Movember.
In a sport that in the past has struggled to deal with issues surrounding masculinity and mental health, Movember’s impact on rugby has been profound.
The Rugby Challenge, for example, is a ‘Mo Space’ in which over 200 clubs across the country have joined together to raise money for men’s health. So far, the Rugby Challenge has raised over sixty-two thousand pounds, encompassing teams from Harlequins to Chard RFC 3rdXV.
It is poignant, therefore, that this week Newcastle Falcons centre Johnny Williams has chosen to open up about his testicular cancer for the first time on BBC Sounds podcast You, Me and the Big C. Speaking to the show, Williams left a warning to men who might be nervous about getting checked.
“My only regret is that I let it go for three months, because that may have been the difference between having chemotherapy and not,” spoke Williams, wearing a Movember T-Shirt. “You’re not ever going to get laughed out of the hospital or the nurse or the GP.”
This is an important message about a subject that is not only hard to talk about with others, but also to come to terms with yourself. However, it is a necessary one.
Over the last few years the conversation surrounding men and their physical and mental health has moved on. Emphasis on stoicism has been cast aside and a new value has been placed on honesty and openness. The rugby community must keep up with this changing landscape because, above all, that’s what rugby is: a community. A place where you look out for your mates and your mates look after you.
People like Williams talk openly and publicly catalyse this positive change. Much the same can be said for the likes of Nigel Owens and Gareth Thomas, who have done so much to advance the conversation surrounding homophobia in rugby and issues surrounding mental health. The sport is in a better place because of these role models.
There is still, however, a way to go. Israel Folau’s Instagram tirade in April served as a shocking reminder that the sport can be a very isolating and unaccepting place. Furthermore, Movember’s message cannot be seen as a one-month thing. It would be a hypocrisy to grow a moustache as a badge for 30 days of the year and then spend the other 335 ignoring its message and reverting back to old habits.
Society, and the way we talk about our mental and physical health, is changing; rugby has a fantastic opportunity to be a positive force and the likes of Williams, Thomas and Owens are helping make that happen.
Written by Will Sewell.