Nate Ebner plays safety and special teams for the New England Patriots, but he’s also a U.S. Olympian – not in football, but in rugby. Indeed, Ebner, a member of the U.S. men’s national rugby team, requested a leave of absence from the Pats to go to Rio.
We know what you’re thinking. That had to be a tough conversation with Bill Belichick, right?
As it turns, not really.
“I just think I had made up my mind with what I wanted to do,” Ebner told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I think once I voiced that to him, he knew where I was coming from. They knew (I had) a rugby background, so they understood it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. They knew how much I wanted it, and after that, he just gave me his blessing and we went forward with it.”
Ebner, who played football and rugby at Ohio State, was a sixth-round pick in 2012. He has spent his entire four-year career in New England and isn’t worried about whether he’ll still have an NFL job upon his return.
“That’s not really my concern at the moment,” he said. “Right now, I was given a leave of absence to do this. I’m giving everything that I have to this, and all these guys that have worked their tails off – some of them for five or six years waiting for this moment – I’m going to give them everything that I have. When I get done with the Olympics, I’ll address that accordingly, however that falls into place.”
Ebner, an Ohio native, learned rugby from his father. He said it’s “more than a possibility” that the U.S. brings home a medal and believes that Fiji has the best rugby team in the world, followed by New Zealand and South Africa.
“Those are definitely the frontrunners, if you ask me,” Ebner said. “But (we’re) definitely contenders. We’ve beaten the best teams in the world. Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa, we’ve beaten them all. We just haven’t been as consistent. I definitely would say we’re not frontrunners, but we’re contenders, and if anyone is going to write us off, they’re mistaken for sure.”
Ebner, 27, is certainly aware of the problems in Rio, but he isn’t going to let that prevent him from participating in the Olympics.
“There’s definitely a concern,” he said, “but I think the U.S. Olympic Committee has done a great job addressing it and we’re doing everything that we can to protect ourselves as much as you can. Going into it, I’m going to go get my vaccines and do what I got to do. You’re right, there’s some serious unrest and stuff going on that’s a potential threat. But I trust in the people that are (in charge of keep us safe). At the end of the day, for me, it’s not a big enough threat to stop my life and put my life on hold and not go for something that’s once-in-a-lifetime. You just got to look past it.”
“There’s a real threat in everything in life,” Ebner continued. “Too much is on the line, and I’ve put too much work into this to let that stop me. I just have to trust in the people that are managing our safety and things of that nature. I can put my trust in them.”
Ebner is looking forward to the Opening Ceremony, playing in the Games and simply experiencing the Olympics. He expects it to be emotional, spiritual, and above all else, wonderful, regardless of the outcome.
“Just being in that moment and having those feelings, that’s more of what I’m looking forward to than anything else,” he said. “When that’s going to come, I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ll remember it when it does.”