The American speedster talks activism, alcohol testing and seeing the world

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Downtime with… USA sevens star Perry Baker

Do you have any nicknames? 

Oh yeah. Speedstick, P-Bakes, Shake ‘n Bake… I guess I’m one of those guys who gets lots of nicknames.

What’s your funniest moment on the pitch? 

I was captain for a tournament and we were playing Scotland in Cape Town. There was a loose ball on the ground and I tried to kick it away. Danny Barrett yelled, “Don’t do that, just kill it!” If I could jump on it I would but I was just trying to get it out.

Mark Robertson (Scotland) walks by and was like, “Come on, you’re supposed to know this, you’re the captain…” We all started laughing.

If you could be stuck in a lift with anyone, who would it be? 

If it’s anyone I’d say Dick Gregory. He was an activist for the black community. He was also a comedian. He died around three years ago, but I would say him because he was such a smart a guy that he’d make you think. I loved his brain.

Is it important for influential figures to highlight issues? 

To a certain extent. I feel like issues can be heard more due to the calibre of the player talking or the platform that he or she may have.

What’s your most embarrassing moment on the pitch? 

When I started playing rugby I didn’t wrap a player up in the tackle. I did an American Football-style dive into his legs and everyone went crazy. My coach ran onto the field and said, “This is his first game, he don’t know!” But I saw this big guy running, pretty fast, and I just came from the side and dived into his legs. I didn’t know I had to actually wrap him up!

On the sevens series, I was going for a try and stepped out of bounds, and another time against Wales a player knocked the ball out my hands when I was about to score a try.

What grinds your gears?

If you text my phone, I may hit call instead of replying, to get it out of the way. If you then don’t answer the phone that annoys me.

You played American Football. Do you follow other sports?

I watch basketball and a little tennis here and there. My wife and stepson are huge baseball fans, so I don’t mind that. But it’s more that there are athletes I root for. So I’d say the San Francisco Giants as I like their catcher, Buster Posey, and some others.

What’s been your biggest waste of money? 

I do it all the time! I’d say the 500 bucks I spent on a pair of headphones that I probably used one time and then didn’t like them.

Who would be your three dream guests at a dinner party? 

I was a huge Kobe Bryant fan, so I’d want to talk to him about the sports side. I love Rihanna’s music and had a huge crush on her. And then Denzel Washington. I’d want to talk with him about his acting career and the Hollywood world.

What’s the worst job you’ve had? 

I worked at a report centre where drug users would come in. I had to take samples of their urine to send out to check if they’d had alcohol. That part was really disgusting!

Do you still want to join the police after rugby? 

I did when I was younger but now I want to go into coaching. But I watch a show called The First 48 and I wouldn’t mind spending a day with homicide detectives. I find it so interesting.

Do you enjoy seeing the world? 

When I started in sevens, my mom used to tell me to send postcards and take pictures. I said, “Mom, you want to live it through me but I would love to take you.” My parents have now been to a few places they’d never dreamed of going to. It’s so cool that I got to do that and I want to give other people an opportunity to do that too.

USA sevens star Perry Baker

Flyover: Perry Baker scores a try during the Rio Olympics in 2016 (Getty Images)

Ever had any culture shocks? 

When I went to Brazil for the Olympics, that was a shock. Sometimes in different parts of Cape Town there is. Everywhere has bad areas but it’s so different when you take yourself outside. You must look outside the box. I try to every time I travel somewhere. I want to get the culture, I want that experience. I don’t want to see what tourists see all the time.

I’ve been to Tokyo before. I want to take my family around and see it at the Olympics. Mom is big on watching the news and thinking everything is that way and I say, “No, it’s totally different when you’re there.” I’d love my family to get outside the box and explore a bit.

What would you like to achieve outside of rugby? 

I’m just living day by day. I want to get a home with my family instead of renting. But I’m married, have kids and I’m happy playing rugby!

This article originally appeared in the August 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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