From her professional playing days on the field to her endeavors in coaching, fashion, broadcasting, philanthropy, and other areas, the American rugby legend is leaving a lasting legacy.
We’ve all heard the phrase “finding your life’s purpose.” We are sometimes born knowing exactly what we want to do and be. Sometimes we just live our lives and wait for “that calling” to come to us. The latter is demonstrated by Phaidra Knight, the first Black woman inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. She walked onto a rugby field knowing nothing about the sport or how it was played. After 13 years, she was named Rugby’s Player of the Decade.
Knight stepped out of her car in a full sweat-suit and onto the field, where she was tossed a football on a hot summer afternoon. She immediately began bobbing and weaving her way to the end zone. “Touch it down!” the players shouted, as they watched Knight become an instant success. “I didn’t even know what to do with the ball.” This was the beginning of an imminently victorious journey.
Knight was approached about the sport in the spring of 1997. “I was at a law school party when a woman asked if I had ever played rugby,” Knight recalls. “I had no idea what it was.” She listened as the woman described the sport as a cross between basketball, football, and soccer, with tackling thrown in for good measure. She then invited me to a training session a few days later. Knight, who was focused on making the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team, was not paying attention. The tackling element of the game, on the other hand, struck a chord with her.
Knight was also drawn to the rugby club’s diversity. She grew up in Irwinton, Georgia, and attended Alabama State University for her undergraduate studies. So being on a team with people of different genders, races, and ethnicities was a new and refreshing experience. “Two other Black women were present.” And in Wisconsin, where there aren’t many Black people, even two out of about 15 was a significant number. You also had Asian and Jewish players. It was a fantastic group of people.” Knight began training alongside them. And she had no idea there was a US team at the time. She was enthralled by the sport and the fact that she could run through people—and tackle them. “No one had ever given me that license,” Knight, who holds the world scoring record, says. “And it was fantastic.”
Living a double life as an attorney in the morning and an athlete in the evening was beginning to wear on Knight. She kept playing rugby after she graduated from law school. It was nearly impossible for her to separate the two parts of her life. She eventually found herself working for a large firm in Chicago while also playing internationally, which she describes as “a pretty crazy juggle.” She left the law firm after deciding to give rugby her all, claiming that she wasn’t happy or cut out for that life.
Knight desired to devote a significant portion of her energy to being one of the top rugby players in one of the best programs in the country. So she moved to New York and became an entrepreneur, starting a cleaning company that allowed her to train and travel on her own time. She has gone through several career incarnations. Ultimately, it was important to do things that aligned with her athletic endeavors: rugby coach at Princeton and Columbia; vice president of a girls and women’s program at Play Rugby USA; a writer for the Rugby Football Foundation; and a personal trainer were some of the jobs that she enjoyed, all while playing rugby at the highest level. In 2016, Knight also tried out for the U.S. Olympic team.
Fashion is yet another rewarding endeavor. Knight’s PSK Collective clothing collection has an “athletic-meets-streetwear vibe,” according to Knight, who was wearing one of her rugby jerseys during our interview.