When I first started writing this, I planned on exploring common stereotypes associated with women’s tackle and lingerie football. I thought I’d find overwhelming support that female tackle players are commonly stereotyped as lesbians, and Legends Football League (LFL) (formerly the Lingerie Football League) players are commonly stereotyped as sluts, whores, etc. After interviewing players, coaches, and General Managers from both leagues, I came to a very different conclusion. The next 3 posts will delve deeper into what I found and the differences between the 2 leagues.
This piece will be published in 3 parts, each 1 week a part. The first story will explore the women’s tackle league, the second story the LFL, and the last story will tie it all together, featuring Q&A with a player who has participated in both leagues.
Part 1: Women’s Tackle Football, Girls ARE Tough Enough–
The most common stereotype associated with the women’s tackle football league, wasn’t that the players were all lesbians, but that they weren’t tough enough to play tackle football, that football was a “men’s sport.” A common cop out used for centuries to exclude women from sports, dating as far back as the first Olympic Games. Women were excluded from playing what were traditionally considered male sports or forced to play a variation of the male game that was more “appropriate” and “safer” for females.
There are 2 primary women’s tackle football leagues in North America, the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) and the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). The IWFL was started in 2000, by a group of women who wanted to make the IWFL a household name. The IWFL currently has 51 teams nationwide and in Canada, and is home to 1600 football players! The WFA, founded in 2007, has 62 teams nationwide and in Mexico. The WFAs overall goal is for women to no longer have to pay to play football.
The women who play in the IWFL and the WFA, like many female athletes before them, continue to break the glass ceiling. They are tough enough and they are proving it 365 days a year. Refusing to be kicked off the grid iron, which for a long time was considered a domain exclusive to males.
Unlike their male counterparts, women’s tackle football players pay to play. Paul Hamlin, owner of the DC Divas, commented on the pay to play policy “One of the problems with women’s football is getting enough funding. Football is a very expensive game, the fields are expensive, but more than that there is a lot of equipment and organization required.” The players pay for equipment, transportation, hotels, travel expenses, medical bills, etc. If you’re unfamiliar with women’s tackle football, the game is rough, players suffer the same serious injuries as their male counterparts (broken bones, concussions, torn ligaments, partial paralysis, etc.). The difference, they’re not under the purview of medical staff or an athletic trainer, and don’t receive medical insurance to cover injuries that can be very expensive, impact quality of life, or the ability to work.
These women are extremely dedicated, devoted to putting women’s football on the map; these women are the game changers. They are deeply committed personally, financially, physically, and emotionally to do whatever it takes to enact change, to define what it means to be a female tackle football player.
Jordyn White, plays Defensive End and Left Guard for the DC Prodigy, she is also the General Manager of the team. White’s goal is to continue to grow tackle football, she loves the energy, environment, and wants to be able to share that with as many people as possible. White is well aware of the stereotype that girls can’t or shouldn’t play tackle football, her rebuttal “we’ve been proving that wrong for 10 years.”
In the 2014 season, the top 3 passing teams in both the WFA and IWFL had similar passing yards per game as the NFL, averaging between 175 and 270 yards per game. In 2014 the New York Sharks averaged 266 yards per game the same as the Greenbay Packers.
Tiffany Matthews, plays Linebacker and Running Back for the DC Prodigy, and she is the Owner of the team. When asked about some of the common stereotypes associated with women’s tackle football, the concern that playing tackle football was not attractive or sexy was discussed. When did it become a requirement for female athletes to be attractive and always be sexy? This kind of thinking pigeon holes female athletes as one-dimensional, when we are so much more than just “sexy.” The idea that women need to be attractive, sexy, or beautiful all the time, especially as an athlete, is ridiculous. In response to this rationale Matthews responds, “That’s great, because we’re not going for sexy.”
So why is women’s football not on the same stage as other women’s sports or men’s football? Paul Hamlin spoke on the difference between men’s and women’s football, “I don’t think there really is a heck of a lot of difference, except that women come to the game quite later in life.” For several of the players on both the Divas and the Prodigy, growing up there were no leagues, camps, or role models to aspire to. Players in the WFA and IWFL came to the game much later in life, many players starting their careers in their late teens and some as late as their 40s. They’re trying to change that. Rachel Huhn, Center and Guard for the DC Divas was asked what she would say to her younger self about playing tackle football: “To suck it up and do it, because there always has to be somebody who paves the way.”
To all the female athletes out there young and old, who have always wanted to play tackle football, I will leave you with this:
“We’re here, it exists, come out and play, don’t be scared. 64 teams nationwide, we’re here” – Tiffany Matthews, Owner DC Prodigy