LADIES WHO CRUNCH ; Few Sports Are So Self-Consciously Masculine as American Football. but a New Professional League, Starting Next Month, Aims to Exploit the Sport's Hitherto Neglected Feminine Side. Hillary Johnson Reports
Hillary Johnson, Photographs Henry Leutwyler, The Independent (London, England)
Next month sees a big step forward in the history of American sport, (and, some would say, in the history of gender equality): the launch of a new body called the National Women's Football League. Initially comprising 12 teams, with another 20 already in the pipeline, it aspires to the same big-tackle, big-money kudos as its male counterpart, the super-rich National Football League (NFL). And indications so far suggest that it will make a strong start.
Last year's pre-season series of games between Nashville Dream and the Alabama Renegades was a huge success, drawing sell-out crowds and, more importantly, scores of enquiries from women interested in taking up the sport as well as individuals wanting to sponsor teams in the League proper. As a result, Catherine Masters, founder of the NWFL and owner of Nashville Dream, believes that her league will soon eclipse the various small-time leagues and exhibition events that have come and gone in America over the past 25 years. Eighty per cent of the enquiries she received came from women, undeterred by the price-tag of $35,000 to buy a start-up team in the league. "In three years, we could have enough revenue to sign Marion Jones, if we play it right," says Masters who has 25 years of sports marketing experience.
Meanwhile, the players themselves will happily risk life, looks and limb in the bone-crunching tackles that are the essence of the sport, pocketing $125 per game and calling themselves pro athletes. Unlike their male counterparts in the NFL, these NWFL women are grown-ups, with lives and children and real jobs, as therapists, farmers, engineers and rocket scientists. Some used to play soccer and rugby and the like in college; others simply grew up with big brothers thumping them day in and day out. Most of the players are blunt about what drew them to the game: "The hitting..."; "I wanted to hit people..."; "It was the running and the hitting. …