Wednesday, March 11, 2020

BOOK REVIEW : “In The Sin Bin” is powerful, personal, philosophical and also a riveting rugby read

Link Wilfley

What do we expect from a rugby book?  

Generally it will be based on a player we know well, having followed their career at the highest level.  We’ll be looking for background info - where they grew up, how they got into the sport, what the coaches who inspired them early on were like...basically everything they faced on the way to playing senior rugby.  Then we’d get to the big matches we all remember and find ourselves treated to details of what was happening behind the scenes.

To put it another way, having seen the matchday performances on the surface, we look on these books as an invitation to put on our snorkelling gear and go just beneath to see more along with the player or coach in question.  

With his book “In The Sin Bin : Rugby, Rape And Redemption” however, former US Eagle Link Wilfley offers less of an invitation and more of a challenge; and rather than snorkeling, you are actually brought in a submarine, quickly plunging to depths where you can observe his perceptions of numerous life experiences, some harrowing and traumatic as the subtitle suggests.

But it is still very much a rugby book, and although Wilfley’s USA test career was relatively short (20 caps from an 83-3 Irish tonking in 2000 to a 39-15 loss to Scotland in the 2003 World Cup), the fact that he followed the sport’s “road less travelled” actually makes his tale all the more compelling.  

Not many can claim to have both lived and played at a high level on five continents, with significant stints in all four SANZAAR nations, Rotherham in England’s second tier, plus of course some time in the US, in his native Colorado as well as Oregon.  Oh, and then there was that time he tried out for Real Madrid...

At a time when campaigns promoting mindfulness like are so prevalent, this work is practically required reading for those looking to bridge the gap between the pursuit of sporting excellence and the need to confront your personal demons.  These two aspects are randomly yet cleverly covered by the book’s format, as it meanders back and forth from traditional stories of matches, tours and colourful characters to a powerful self-examination by way of prolonged sessions with an array of ever-changing virtual therapists.

I enjoyed the stories, like how the Rugby Gods intervened to determine he should play as a utility back not a forward, or what he had his coach say to him on the pitch as he was lining up an important placekick, or how he caught the Ghost Donkey.  The author also has very interesting thoughts "for a Yank" (I'm allowed to say that because I am one) on how the game should be played. 

But the deeper waters are never far away from the narrative, and whether or not you identify personally with his experiences, you can certainly appreciate that he is willing to examine them so publicly.  When the book first arrived at my desk for review I have to admit I was reluctant to share the full title here on the site, but I quickly realised the sharing is the point.  If Link can do it, so can I.

So is this your average rugby book?  Hell, no.  But is it just as "perfectly imperfect" as we’re always saying the sport itself is?  Absolutely, yes.  To borrow a credo from the text, you could say it’s a “WIN-WIN”. JLP

PS : This is NOT a paid advertisement.  I received only a copy of the book from the author for review.

Blurb : Molested as a child, abandoned by egotistical hypocrisy, culture shocked and terrorized by the gangs of Madrid, Link Wilfley runs from suicidal tendencies and his demons with fists, drugs, alcohol, and professional rugby.

In the Sin Bin (a rugby penalty box) spans five continents, where Link crosses paths with the salty characters of the Earth. The demons of trauma past cannot be defeated without facing them, however, and the turmoil of pain and confusion mean repeated visits to jail, where he finds the greatest evil of all. He returns to the States ashamed and lost, only to be saved by a woman who will punch him in the face, call him out, and mother his five children.

Disturbing, unreservedly direct, and surprisingly comical, this rugged treatise on masculinity is the physical and emotional journey of a young man doing the hard work to heal the wounds of wicked circumstances.


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019