In the spirit of female competitors such as Manon Rheaume (hockey), Anne Donovan (basketball) and Tiffany Richards (baseball) that challenged convention by playing with the boys, Dr. Jen Welter proudly follows in their empowering legacies. Having broken new ground in the traditionally male dominated field of tackle football, Welter donned the Texas Revolution jersey on February 15 and was prepared to make a run at history.
The community of Allen, Texas, home to the Indoor Football League’s Revolution, showed their support as over 5,000 fans filled the stadium to witness the wonder that is Welter. With the club hosting the North Texas Crunch for its season opener, pride was also on the line as the Revolution were hoping to start the season on a winning note.
After a grueling week-long training camp, Welter earned her chance to become the first female to compete in a non-kicking position in men’s football. The third quarter would provide the opportunity for Welter to grace the IFL gridiron. While she finished with three rushes for a loss of one yard, she had proven that she could take a bruising, punishing hit and rise back to her feet.
Statistically, it would be easy for the hardened cynic to judge her performance strictly by the numbers. Considering that the legendary Walter Payton rushed for zero yards in his NFL debut but would retire as the league’s all-time leading rusher, one game cannot define a career. As Welter is still learning the running back position, her determination is admirable.
The fact that she was able to withstand the hit was in itself a significant victory. For fans unfamiliar with Welter, contact is not an aspect of the game that she is unfamiliar with. A legendary linebacker and four-time champion with the Dallas Diamonds, she has also competed with the US National Team in 2010 and 2013.
With possibilities to also get more accustomed to the game on special teams, there is no question that Welter’s fans believe she can continue to grow as an IFL competitor. Judging by her character and heart, there is no question that she will dedicate herself to making even greater contributions to the Revolution if given the chance.
As the final score resulted in a 64-30 victory for the Revolution over the North Texas Crunch, the fact that her teammates treated her like an equal signified an even greater victory. The courage of individuals such as general manager (and former Heisman Trophy winner) Tim Brown along with head coach Chris Williams set a very strong and positive tone that may hopefully serve as the catalyst towards a new and exciting trend in football.
Welter’s effort in making history and proving that women can play this game is symbolic of the growth in female football. Despite the setbacks that female football has endured in its early years (teams folding, leagues dissolving, struggles to be taken seriously), the sport always remained part of the sporting landscape. Despite setbacks, the growth of the game could not be contained. Like the game, Welter is able to get back up and not be discouraged about being knocked down.
It is perhaps appropriate that her brush with history occurred during the Sochi Winter Games. A few days after the football contest, Finland’s Noora Raty, a legendary goaltender in female hockey announced in Sochi that she wanted to pursue professional men’s hockey.
With Raty having a tryout lined up with Kiekko-Vantaa in a second-tier men’s hockey league in Finland, there is a unique trace of irony. Considering the 2013 IFAF Womens’ Worlds (where Welter earned her second gold medal for Team USA) was held in Vantaa, there is definitely the feeling of a karmic connection between Welter and Raty. As the Finnish city was part of an empowering chapter in the growth of female football, it may help write a new one in which one day, the cultural norm will see women and men competing together at elite levels as part of sporting convention.