2017: An Outstanding Year for Women’s Football, but Few Noticed

By Russ Crawford

Its been a defining year for women’s sport.”  The headline on a site known as The Mixed Zone, which claims to be “bringing the best women’s sports stories online,” caught my eye when I saw the tweet from The Women’s Sport Trust on December 15.  There had been several significant events in the world of women’s tackle football during the year such as:

  • Team USA had won its third straight International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women’s World Championship in June
  • Becca Longo became the first female football player to receive a scholarship from DII’s Adams State University
  • Jen Welter published Play Big: Lessons from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL
  • Eight women received internships to coach in the NFL this past season, and Katie Sowers became only the second woman to be kept on as a regular season assistant coach for the SF 49ers.  She also became the first openly LGBT coach in the NFL.
  • In October, two girl’s middle and high school teams from Indiana and Manitoba played the first ever international matches between school girl teams in the Battle of the Borders held in Mooresville, IN
  • On December 21, K-Lani Nava kicked nine extra points in the University Scholastic League Championship game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas to help her Strawn School team win a state championship.

So I was expecting to see some of that mentioned in the article.  What did I find?  There was zero-zip-nada about any of the above.  The Mixed Zone is a UK site, so maybe my hopes were unrealistic.  There were stories about the women’s national cricket team, a Scottish speed skater, and other athletes from across the pond.

However, there were Brit tacklers worthy of mention.  The UK Lions, the British women’s national team, played in its first IFAF WWC in Langley, BC.  They defeated the Finnish National Team, an established international competitor, in their first game before falling to Canada and Mexico.  Still, this was an impressive debut on the biggest stage for women playing American football.

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Team USA QB Sami Grisafe carrying the ball against Team Canada in the final of the IFAF Women’s World Championship. Courtesy of Russ Crawford.

Linebacker Phoebe Schecter, the defensive leader for the Lions, was one of the women hired to intern with the NFL this past summer.  Following her work with the Buffalo Bills, Schecter became an intern with Bryant University in Rhode Island.

Pretty impressive news for British sports!  These stories, however, took back seat to soccer players and mountain bikers.  This is likely a reflection of the near invisibility of women’s football, not only in the UK, but everywhere else, including in the United States.

The same was true of a pair of stories from Australia.  Aussies on the Rise: The Growth of Women in Sports in Australia ignored the groundbreaking work that Team Outback put in to reaching the IFAF WWC.  They left without a win, but this was their first time on the international stage, and back home they play nine-a-side, or less, in their leagues.  They did secure Jen Welter to be their head coach, who brought some interesting formations and plays to help the team.  They also traveled well, and had one of the best fan bases at the championship, but their inexperience hindered their chances.

This might have been worthy of notice by Natalee Jarett, the author of the article, and she did mention Australian Rules Football, but nothing on the national team.  Perhaps American football is too new down under, although Jarett did mention in passing that “Many variations of football are played in Australia.”

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Medal Ceremony at the IFAF Women’s World Championships in Langley, BC, in July, 2017. Courtesy of Russ Crawford.

So, in 2017, women playing tackle (or American) football went without much notice, other than on Facebook sites such as Gridiron Beauties, Gridiron Queendom, Club Burmy, Female Tackle Football Players Around the World, Women’s American Football UK, and Féminines football américain Barentin Killer Bees, to name a few.

Some stories such as Longo’s, Sowers,’ and Nava’s did receive some national press; as did some of the other NFL interns, but those seem to be notices of women doing football things in the male sport.  When women, or girls, play against each other, they do so largely without notice.  Maybe that will change in the New Year, but historians make lousy prognosticators, so I will make no predictions.  Historians are, however, trained to notice patterns, and the lessons of the past do indicate that the women who play football must continue the struggle to crash through the forward wall of media indifference to sack them some notoriety (sorry for that sentence).

Maybe 2018 will be the year when that happens.

Russ Crawford is a Professor of History at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.  His area of specialty is sport history, and his current project is a history of women playing football.  Along with several chapters on sport history, he has published two books.  Le Football: The History of American Football in France was recently published by the University of Nebraska Press in August of 2016.  His first book, The Use of Sport to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1946-1963, was published by the Edwin Mellen Press in 2008.

One thought on “2017: An Outstanding Year for Women’s Football, but Few Noticed

  1. BAFA (British American Football’s governing body) used its social media channels to promote the GB Team during the world championships including links to live video streams of their games while the UK-based Double Coverage website also covered the team. Of oourse all of this was to people who already follow American Football in the UK, most sports fans would be unaware of women’s American Football.

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