Photo credit: Getty Images/TeamUSA
Olympic rugby sevens player Naya Tapper met with Parity ahead of her NFT drop to talk about her unorthodox journey into the sport and the importance of making her voice heard during Black History Month. The 27-year-old from Beaufort, South Carolina had a lot to say.
Congratulations on becoming the first U.S. Women’s Rugby Sevens player to reach 100 tries! Describe your feelings of accomplishment, especially given that you picked up the sport in college.
When I first started playing rugby [while at UNC-Chapel Hill], it was more just for fun. I had no goals, no plans; I just wanted something that would allow me to stay active and make new friends. I think it eventually turned into my profession because of my natural talent and competitiveness from playing other sports for most of my life.
I think the first time I felt like I had to catch up was after college when I went to California to train full-time with the team. Physically, I was where I needed to be but skills-wise, that was the first time I felt like "Dang, I'm really going to have to work for this. I'm gonna have to put in the hours, the independent sessions, to get to where I need to be to even play at the level with these women that I'm around right now." Once I took on that mentality, the sky was the limit for me.
This wasn't my first sport, this wasn't my plan, but I somehow created magic out of it.
Obviously, I still had moments of needing to be pushed mentally and physically by my coaches and teammates, because I was so used to being complacent from where I had come from. I think those moments [of hardship] make this current one so special, knowing that it wasn't an easy road the entire time and that I had to work really hard to get to where I am right now.
Your NFT, NAYAONFIYAH, is part of our Black History Month Collection on the Parity NFT Marketplace powered by Verenft. Why was it important to you that it drop now?
I know that a lot of eyes are on Black athletes, particularly this month, so it's an opportunity for us to speak louder and be heard on the things we want to share.
It's important for me to take advantage of the exposure that Black History Month can bring, in order to not only fulfill the legacy I want to leave but also to make the impact I want to have on the world, for my own name and also for USA Rugby as an organization.
I think NFTs add a more personal aspect to the fan experience. Being able to own something that is unique to someone you look up to is pretty cool. I would love to buy an NFT of certain athletes or world figures I admire, so to be able to give that opportunity to somebody else is special to me.
As a Black woman in a predominantly white sport, you're well aware of the importance of representation in those spaces. Do you have any thoughts on how rugby could become more inclusive in the U.S.?
One of the big ways it's getting more representation is with players like myself, Kris Thomas, Jaz Gray, Cheta Emba... especially on the men's side as well, like Perry Baker, Carlyn Isles, Kavon Williams... exposing people in our communities to the sport. But we need more help outside of that.
How fans are able to watch rugby makes a big difference in the audience it could potentially reach. A lot of our games have to be streamed on a paid platform, as opposed to being on cable or broadcast.
A lot of diverse communities will see sports like football and basketball because they're on major networks, but to expect them to know about a sport that you have to pay for to watch, in a country where it's already not very common, is unrealistic.
On top of that, getting more rugby clubs, events, and camps in those more diverse areas. That's where a lot of the hidden talent is. It's getting there, which is very exciting to see.
Do you have a phrase or saying that you repeat to yourself during difficult times?
Reminding myself that everything happens for a reason allows me to not get so tied up in the uncontrollables. I think a lot of the time, as athletes we can stress a lot over things we can't control. All you really can manage is yourself and your actions. Remembering that brings me back to the present moment and allows me to focus on what I can do to make my situation better, to make it less stressful, and to do whatever is in my control to reach the success that I want to achieve.
We love your podcast, Leo’s Den, that you host with teammate and friend Ilona Maher. What’s coming up for season 3?
We are writing up the episodes right now! Just know it will be six episodes and we’ll have some great women guests. We’ll be talking about getting ready for the World Cup, more personal things such as our dating lives, and who knows what else! We also want to make sure we get topics from our listeners and make sure they’re engaged as well.
Tell us about your interests outside of sports.
I would really be interested in trying improv. I feel like I have the personality and I love comedy. I also love traveling. Getting to see places around the world that some people only dream of, is wonderful. Financial stability is also very important to me. I want to be empowering people to get to a comfortable space while also maintaining myself and my family’s stability.
Lastly, where can people learn more about you?
My website has everything! Check out nayatapper.com or my Instagram.
This interview has been edited and condensed due to clarity.