Friday, May 10, 2002
Women’s Football Comes to Michiana
Spring may be in the air, but football has come back to Michiana. I’m speaking of the National Women’s Football League and South Bend’s very own team, the Golden Hawks. Last Saturday I went up to Niles to watch the game between the Hawks and the Southwest Michigan Jaguars. I confess I went to the game at first to see something that was really different: women in full pads and helmets playing tackle football. But after the kickoff I was a true believer. I saw a fantastic game, with a vocal and supportive crowd. There was tremendous camaraderie among the players, some great gang tackling, a few late hits, referees who needed new eyeglasses, a crazy announcer, a concession stand that aimed to please, an amazing halftime show involving dogs chasing frisbees....all and all, this was entertainment of a very high order. So I hope all WVPE listeners will pack up the kids and put grandma in the back of the minivan and come on out for the next home game.
Before I learned of this new league I had never really thought that women had even wanted to play football. I realize this relegates me to the Neanderthal file, but to me, at least, football is just about the most testosterone-charged game around, and given that football and injuries go together like a 3rd and 8 calls for a passing situation, well, I just assumed that the desire to charge bull-like into a rush of gigantic bodies was limited to huge guys. But reading the official game program made me realize the error of my ways. Next to the photos and the height and weight of each of the Golden Hawks players was the personal testimony each player gave as to why they were out on the gridiron. For some it was simply a case of their being quintessential jocks who loved the thrill of playing a new sport. For others ideology, or more specifically feminism, figured into their decision. Player after player noted that their desire to play women’s football was tied up with their belief that they were breaking new ground and that they were showing their daughters and other women that crossing this final frontier was truly possible. Here we see yet another example where the personal has become the political.
A few of the players were even more direct as to their rationale for chasing after a football. Take Regina Williams, a South Bend school teacher who proclaimed, “I live to hit.” Heaven help the poor kid who throws a spitball in her class! And Jeanne Dunham of Elkhart said “I love aggressive sports.” To emphasize her point, Ms. Dunham painted a warrior mask on her face to make her look even more fearsome. Ally McBeal, your days are numbered, and in ways you couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Yes, the Golden Hawks may have been shutout by the score of 24-0, but they are sure to get better if team spirit is any indicator. And yes, they need to work on their pass protection and on not fumbling so often. A mascot of sorts would help too--though I hope they don’t favor one like the Jaguars, which looked like an overgrown squirrel from where I was sitting. But the score really is secondary to the whole scene: where else can one hear an irate fan scream “throw her ass out” and get a round of applause? Or hear an announcer refer to a player as “Boom Boom”? Watching women football players high five one another, spit on the sidelines, and perhaps even cuss a bit after a missed tackle shows me once again that this is just about the coolest country in the world.
One more thing: the motto of the league is entitled “realizing a dream.” Evoking Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech might seem at first glance a bit much, but after reading those brief bios I am convinced that this is another strange step toward the equality that we Americans are deeply committed to. So check out their web site at http://www.nwflhawks.com. Their next home game is on Saturday, June 15th, against the Detroit Dangers at Niles High School. Be there or be square. Now if only we can get that local tv station’s helicopter to cover the game, all will be right with our world.