Ornamental masculinity: Twickers to a T
Jon Henderson, The Observer, (December 8, 2002)
Early December means the Varsity match and the chance to talk to a different kind of rugby man. Ten days ago, the England flanker Richard Hill reflected earnestly on the autumn internationals; yesterday, the American lock-forward Adam Russell, a key player in Tuesday's student set-to at Twickenham, discoursed effort lessly on the thoughts of Susan Faludi, author, as if you didn't know, of Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man.
Russell, 30, who is aiming to become the first Dark Blue to feature in four successive Twickenham wins, is in his seventh - yup, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven - year at Oxford. 'It may sound like I've sort of gone into a coma, but it's not all that strange,' he says of his last four years doing a D.Phil. in social anthropology, the same subject that occupied the first three years of his Oxford studies.
It's social anthropology that brings us on to Faludi, whose theories on 'ornamental masculinity' are central to Russell's thesis. And just so you know what's going through the mind of this particular 6ft 4in, 18-stone lock when he isn't nestling his shoulders on the buttocks of his front-row colleagues, here, in his own words, is a brief explanation of 'om'.
'It refers to an increasingly commodified society, where you're no longer a person, you're essentially a consumer - and what you buy is what you are. It's essentially a way of looking at how certain objects are sold as what used to be adornments but are now the essence of masculinity, like masculine beauty products. The idea is that masculinity is a thing that's worn on the skin, whereas the supposition is that previously masculinity had been something that you are.'
And you thought the Varsity rugby players all read geography or land management.
Perhaps it was living in Vienna for five years that got Russell thinking - he had what he calls 'a fairly itinerant childhood' after his mother married a man in the foreign service - but it was at Duke University, North Carolina, that he learnt rugby union.
'I should emphasise that the rugby we played should be placed in quotation marks,' he says. 'We didn't really know what we were doing. We used to say the Duke drinking team had a rugby problem.'
Steve Hill, the Oxford coach, confirms that Russell, wasn't the finished article when he arrived at Oxford. 'He was a guy who ran around a lot,' says Hill. He has now, though, adds the coach, developed into an outstanding player, a technically excellent scrummager and potent force in the loose.
'I absolutely adore the sport,' says Russell. 'I tried to retire last year but couldn't. The idea of having a life without rugby is pretty unappealing, frankly. I'm an only child who had a solitary childhood and I love the fact that rugby's probably the most team-orientated sport I can think of.' So will he spread the word of rugby union when he goes back to the United States? 'If I could borrow $150 million - make the cheque payable to Adam Russell - I'd go ahead and start a professional league there tomorrow.'
He plans to return home to Washington DC, where he hopes to follow his stepfather into the foreign service. Before that, though, there will be one final outpouring of his non-ornamental masculinity at Twickenham.