Louis Rees-Zammit’s hasty ditching of Wales for NFL adventure is huge gamble | Robert Kitson
At the age of 22, you have a passion for American football and have been presented with an opportunity to travel to Florida and test your skills in the lucrative NFL. While there are no guarantees, there is a significant amount of money at stake if you are able to succeed. Will you accept the offer or will you decline due to a prior commitment to playing Castres in the Challenge Cup on Friday?
Imagine yourself in the fast-paced shoes of Louis Rees-Zammit, and in the depths of January, you can understand the allure of the ultimate American dream: if I excel, great; if not, at least I took a chance during my peak athletic years. As LRZ stated in his hastily penned goodbye letter, opportunities like this don’t come along often.
While I wish him luck, his actions have disappointed many Welsh fans who dream of representing their country in the Six Nations at the Principality Stadium. The idea of pride and excitement during the pre-match anthems seem to be overshadowed by the importance of personal branding in today’s world.
Perhaps it is idealistic or outdated to feel sorrowful about the departure of the most electrifying Welsh player of his time, who was so eager to give up on something so extraordinary – according to reports, the invitation from the United States only came last Sunday evening, so he did not have weeks to contemplate it. Maybe someone could have also recommended that the hasty timing and lack of notice may not work in his favor. If his venture in the States does not succeed, immediate forgiveness may not be guaranteed.
However, Rees-Zammit is not one to idly wait for opportunities to come his way. Known as “Rees-Lightning,” he has achieved 14 tries in his 32 appearances for Wales, proving his undeniable skill. He also possesses a strong belief in himself, as he boldly stated to the Guardian in late 2021 that he is confident in his abilities against any opponent. In his words, the larger the opponent, the less agile they will be.
He will need both his impressive speed and additional skills to secure a spot on an NFL team. Christian Wade, who was possibly even faster, had his dreams crushed. While wanting to be a wide receiver or kick returner is admirable, there are already countless talented sprinters in the United States who have a natural advantage. The NFL’s International Player Pathway program, which Rees-Zammit will participate in Florida, is just the beginning of many challenges he will face, with slim chances of success.
There is debate about whether even the act of seeing him try on shoulder pads is positive for the popularity of rugby worldwide, especially in a country that will be hosting the World Cup in 2031. Some will emphasize that everyone has the right to make their own decisions. The fact is, Welsh rugby is not currently financially rich or has an exceptional team. Rees-Zammit may have simply observed his surroundings and concluded that sitting out of this year’s Welsh Six Nations tournament may not be catastrophic.
However, it is a clear indication of the current state of affairs in both the sport of rugby and society as a whole. Despite the recent heartfelt tributes to the legendary JPR Williams, rugby no longer holds the same level of appeal in Wales as it once did. Furthermore, the sport requires a tremendous amount of dedication for a relatively low salary compared to American football. In terms of profit, rugby is insignificant compared to the massive NFL and from the perspective of Generation Z, there are more attractive sports available.
Why wouldn’t young athletes want to explore beyond Kingsholm or Cardiff Arms Park? Rees-Zammit’s father, a property developer and avid American football fan, has likely exposed him to the vast opportunities outside of rugby. If he decides to return to the sport, he will have gained valuable experience and will have no shortage of teams in Britain, France, and Japan eager to sign him for his ability to attract crowds.
However, in the near future, this will not be of great benefit to Wales or potentially the British & Irish Lions in their upcoming tour of Australia. If Rees-Zammit does make a comeback in the 2025 Six Nations, he will have to excel in order to convince Andy Farrell that he deserves a spot over more devoted and selfless team members.
If that seems too strict, it is simply a reality. While rugby union may be seen as a lesser sport compared to professional gridiron, the red jersey holds 143 years of Test match history which Rees-Zammit has disregarded. He has every right to pursue his dream in Florida, but it is a risky move. As Wales’s players prepare to sing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau before their game against Scotland in Cardiff in two weeks, it would be wise to avoid holding onto any team symbols.