Impossible Meets Possible: Women’s Semi-Pro Tackle Football
When it comes to women playing sports, the most popular activities that come to mind are basketball, softball, volleyball, field hockey, etc. – the list goes on.
Men? The answers are usually more condensed into a smaller list compared to females. Football ranks as one of the most popular sports in the entire country; it’s a male dominated sport known to be rugged, require tenacity and a sport that is physically demanding.
Many high schools offer females a chance to play what many call a “male sport” by participating in an all-girls football game known as “Powder Puff.” For most girls, this is the rare opportunity to play in an organized football game. For others, it can mark the beginning stages of building a female athlete into a semi-professional football player.
That’s right. Women’s tackle football is on the rise and here to stay. When people think of women’s tackle football, some automatically think of the lingerie league. However, the lingerie league is based more on sex appeal rather than football skills.
The Independent Women’s Football League, or the IWFL, is a women’s semi-professional tackle football league in which women wear heavy duty football equipment from head-to-toe, just as men wear. In fact, there are more 30 IWFL teams across the country including the Philadelphia Firebirds, a team based in this area.
Tawana Grayson, the current owner and former player of the Firebirds, shed some insight on the opportunity women have to play football.
“That first time you go out on the field, and in my case it was make a tackle, you know you had just done something you dreamed all your life of doing,” Grayson said. “That first time you go out and actually play the game– that experience is like ‘wow.’”
A woman who has bled football since childhood, Grayson has invested many years of her life into playing and managing women’s football (five years as a player and an owner for nine years), so she is familiar with what it takes for female athletes to succeed as football players.
“It requires dedication, commitment and determination,” she said. “You have to want to do it, and to be ready to put the work in.”
In comparing the physical aspect of the game to the mental aspect, Grayson feels both can be equally challenging at times, although she admits the mental portion of football can prove to be more difficult at times for women football players to handle. Considering there are not separate leagues for girls and boys growing up, Grayson explains that learning the game and techniques in football give women a disadvantage.
However, Grayson is convinced that a late start does not exactly hinder a female’s ability to grasp football concepts. She says having a passion and a mentality to want to get better, any female athlete can become a solid football player.
“For the most part women start (playing) in our league,” she said. “Women traditionally have not have had the opportunities men have had to play the game, so women read more into the coaching than men do… going into a game for the first time, all of that has to be taught. Their preparation to get ready for the season is different (than men) because they’re doing something they’re not used to, so women actually have to prepare harder in the beginning.”
Grayson is optimistic there will one day be a nationalized women’s tackle football league. Despite the fact that hasn’t happened yet, Grayson still feels women football players can have an impact on young male and female athletes.
“ It’s breaking down the barriers that football is just a man’s game,” said Grayson. “For male athletes, it’s one of those things where they think ‘women can do it too,’” she continued. “I always told people that question whether our game is real to come to a game, and if they’re not satisfied to let me know.”
The answer: she hasn’t heard any complaints yet.
Grayson prides herself on women being able to showcase quality football, especially when her Firebirds team is able perform at a high level. With 12 combined years being a part of the Firebirds organization, including two years where she was both a player and owner, Grayson believes it is the relationships players build on the team that makes it worthwhile.
“It’s a family,” she said. “You make great friendships out of this. We argue like a family, but we play like a family too.”
Grayson encourages women athletes who want to try it to explore available opportunities. As an established Firebird, Grayson’s message to women is simple:
“If you have a passion for the game and always wanted to play, there is no other place than to come out and be a Firebird.”
For more information on the team: www.philadelphiafirebirds.com
Lion’s Eye Staff Writer
Amanda Congialdi, firstname.lastname@example.org