Melissa Margulies bravely leads the charge to stand up for players rights

If there truly comes a time in every life where one must stand up and be counted, Melissa Margulies has engaged in such. Employing bravura, complemented by a strong sense of courage, she is setting a precedent by engaging in legal action against her former (and infamous) league of play.

After making countless physical and personal sacrifices in order to provide Los Angeles with three indoor female football championships, the reality of Margulies’ efforts reached a crushing reality in 2013. Suffering a knee injury which nearly ended her career, she made a remarkable recovery. Establishing herself as one of the toughest and admirable women in football, this former USC track star and Pac-10 All-Academic displayed a peerless perseverance in her return to the gridiron.

Sadly, the hard work to recover was met without full financial assistance. As one of the league’s elite players, she was one of the more visible players whose sweat and sacrifice built said league. At one time, she was described by the league as a legend in the making. Despite such accolades, the penny pinching ways superseded any loyalties.

It was a dehumanizing feeling that showed a serious lack of business acumen on the part of the league. Taking into account that this was not her first injury suffered in league play, a broken cheek and orbital bone are other casualties from her tenure with the league. Sadly, it was another situation where a player was made to feel disposable despite the fact that their efforts helped line the league’s coffers.

Aggravating the situation was the fact that she was one of many players who endured intimidation. Hard work may have helped an athlete earn a roster spot, but keeping that spot was another story. From being forced into attending promotional events, threatened with a release or fine for lateness at a practice to the selling of tickets, the reality was that such working conditions amounted to nothing more than an athletic dictatorship.

Having filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior County, Marguiles has sent a very serious message that the league’s arrogance shall be its downfall. Channeling the courage of athletes such as Curt Flood, the first to challenge baseball’s reserve clause, Spencer Haywood, who believed a player did not have to finish college in order to play pro basketball and Carl Brewer, the first athlete to expose former hockey czar Alan Eagleson for misappropriation of union funds, Margulies is making a statement that fairness, equity and dignity are the cornerstones for a successful organization.

Arguing over the classification of players as independent contractors, the heart of the 20-page complaint revolves around a lack of compensation. In theory, wages were supposed to be associated to ticket revenues and performances. In addition, the league also had players sign away other rights such as publicity and promotional.

The complaint also emphasizes that the designation of an athlete as an independent contractor was improper due to players lacking requisite control and discretion over their job responsibilities and duties. Represented by Michael Morrison with Alexander Krakow and Glick of Santa Monica, she is looking to obtain general and compensatory damages, restitution, waiting time penalties, interest and costs,

Extending the hand of collaboration and empathy for any other players that felt poorly treated during the time stated in the lawsuit (2010-13), dating back four years from the time a judgment is reached in the case, Margulies is encouraging them to participate in the lawsuit. Of note, Robin Johnson, a former quarterback with the Las Vegas Sin was one of the first to join the cause.

Despite the sport’s potential for growth, any hope of these remarkable women being treated more humanely did not come to fruition. During the offseason in 2013, any effort to question how things were being run, with the hope of simply brining improvement resulted in being excommunicated from the league. Such mistreatment can only create chaos, leading towards a downward spiral.

From out-of-pocket expenses, bullying over fines, nightmarish road trips and no reimbursement for expenses lost through personal work, one could not help but get the feeling that the league had the ambience of a sweatshop, rather than an arena where women could be empowered and heroic. This disposable treatment of players has resulted in too many bridges being burned for a group of dedicated yet disillusioned women. While this lawsuit may result in more bridges being burned, potentially ending more careers, it is a fire that a group of brave yet exploited players will gladly enjoy.

Should more players get on board, a league which was once seen as an athletic novelty, combining beauty, sports and entertainment in an exciting package that buzzed throughout popular culture will be revealed as nothing more than a fallen house of cards.

For Margulies, her decision to fight back is one that stands as a key moment for women’s sport in this decade. While sporting equality is an ongoing struggle that women are working tirelessly to overcome, the feelings of degradation and bullying that were endured in this league were completely unnecessary. For all her accomplishments as a champion football player, this may prove to be her greatest triumph yet.

#melissa-margulies

Saskatoon Valkyries steamroll the competition in dominant undefeated season

After a 2013 season that saw the Saskatoon Valkyries suffer its first-ever regular season loss to their eternal rivals, the Regina Riot, it would have been easy to believe that the first dynasty in Western Woemn’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) history was in decline. Such speculation was quickly erased after an undefeated season in 2014 that saw the Valkyries dominate their opponents by a cumulative score of 286-28.

On the path towards a fourth consecutive title, the Valkyries were facing the Lethbridge Steel. Having won their third straight Western Conference postseason title, the Steel were hoping that they could continue their streak of upsetting another first-place team. Defeating the Edmonton Storm by a narrow 29-26 margin, the triumph provided the silver and purple with hope.

Having faced Saskatoon twice before in the league championship, the Steel represented the hopes of many female football fans in Alberta. With a team from Alberta having previously appeared in three consecutive championship games, there was hope that a title could finally be brought back to the province.

Such expectations would be unmet once again as Saskatoon made a statement in a 53-0 whitewash. Such a lopsided victory established the Valkyries as the most dominant dynasty in the history of Canadian female football. Running on all cylinders, the game opened with rookie Ehjae Chan returning a punt 63 yards, as Saskatoon built up an impressive 29-0 lead by halftime.

A long pick six by Gillian Allen in the fourth quarter resulted in a 68-yard interception return, putting the game out of reach for a dejected Steel squadron. Quarterback Candace Bloomquist would pass for over 340 yards while completing a remarkable 70 percent of her passes to earn Game MVP honors.

While the drive for five in a row is the next objective for the proud Valkyries, sadly, it shall be without Bloomquist lining up behind centre. In many ways, she was reminiscent of Bart Starr, who won five titles with the Green Bay Packers in the National Football League during the 1960s. Just like Starr, Bloomquist may not have been the biggest quarterback, nor did she have the strongest arm. Yet, her leadership skills were incomparable, providing a presence that stabilized the squad.

Bloomquist held many special qualities that make her the most accomplished quarterback in WWCFL history. Having made the decision to retire on her own terms, satisfied with her legacy (one that is worthy of entry in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame), the one notion that all fans can agree upon is that the WWCFL gridiron will not be the same without her presence.

For now, the joyous celebration of victory is still fresh among the franchise. Having established a standard that has provided a remarkable sense of pride to the residents of Saskatoon, it is also a benchmark that may never be matched again. A complete franchise, filled with remarkable depth and a desire to win, if there was ever an entire team that was worthy of recognition in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, this is truly such a team.

#candace-bloomquist, #saskatoon-valkyries

Website on problems of indoor female football fights the good fight in struggle for dignity

What is developing into one of the most tragic and saddest sports stories of the 2010s is the unfair treatment concerning the women that are competing in a particular indoor football league. Over the last year, many players have had the courage to stand up by going to the media or just outright walking away from the league of lies.

Helping their cause and honoring their struggle is a website that recently launched, helping to not only expose existing problems but hopefully prevent others. The website shares dozens of stories (more on that later) about the undignified treatment of a group of players who were exploited and made to feel as if the league was doing them a favor in doing so.

Spearheaded by an admirable individual who had a front-row seat to this debacle is fighting back. Having been involved with the league as a beat writer and later in an editorial capacity, the unforeseen truth eventually surfaced about the league and it was an ugly truth. After being involved with minor league baseball and coverage of pro football training camps, this individual knew how things were properly administered in other sports and waged a one-man battle that is rightfully growing in support.

Believing that every dog gets its day, the site is devoted to dignity and fair play, while ensuring a moral victory for the players whose countless sacrifices do not always gain the recognition it deserves. Said site features four categories. One is a biography on the creator of the site and their noble motivation to engage in such a cause. The second is a sample letter which is sent to various arenas which may be seen as prospective sites for league play, sharing the horror stories of how the league mistreats its people.

While the fourth link shares the chance for athletes to anonymously share their feelings over league affairs, the third link is truly the heartbeat of the site. With links to over two dozen stories, ranging from safety issues in Toronto, to allegations of game fixing in Florida, it is nothing short of tragic to see that such activity could take place in the last decade.

To someone with no involvement in sport, an outsider, the opportunity to study these stories would almost appear to be situations that occurred from a generation or two ago. How could a league from this era, especially one when so many women have accomplished major breakthroughs in equality, engage in such activity?

In so many of these cases, there tends to be one individual among the league’s leadership emerging as the common factor. Unfortunately, such controversy only serves to tarnish one’s image, an image that may hinder the league’s future.

Taking into account that a few years ago, games from this league were actually broadcast on cable television, the potential to be as popular as mixed martial arts or wrestling, other sports that blended entertainment and popular culture truly seemed possible. Instead, ego and exploitation followed with bridges burnt throughout North America.

Unfortunately, one of the league’s top leaders carried themselves with the arrogance and swagger of infamous sports individuals such as Vince McMahon (wrestling), the late Harold Ballard (hockey) and the late George Steinbrenner (baseball). While the aforementioned were known for their tantrums, greed, verbal assaults and getting their own way, there was a key difference – their employees were compensated.

In the case of Ballard and Steinbrenner, their respective sporting enterprises were monopolies with a built-in fan base that transcended generations. Iroincally, their teams would experience success when both would back off and let the people they hired do their jobs. Although McMahon built his empire in a remarkably quick time span, he never forgot to put money back into his product, ensuring the quality was always better and paying top dollar for the best talent available.

The indoor football league was built on a shoestring budget with the belief that the “sex sells” mentality would work anywhere while treating the players as if they were disposable. Considering many of the players were college educated, having participated in collegiate varsity sports, while engaging in careers such as medicine, law and even military personnel, these athletes were role models,

In an era where there are so many entertainment options and the online world continues to revolutionize society, it is not uncommon to see the most promising business enterprises fail. Even a female sporting enterprise such as the Naked Women’s Wrestling League (Carmen Electra was actually the host of this product) failed to build a fan base despite the sex sells approach.

Sadly, promises of celebrity and superstardom were never met in the indoor league. Athletes were sucked into a world filled with nothing but unfulfilled dreams where favoritism and sex appeal won out over merit. Adding to such frustrations was the fact that compensation and health insurance was nothing more than a fallacy in this world. With speculated revenues of over $1,000,000 in one year, the fact that there was no salary or effort to improve the playing surface (which has duct tape on various parts) is a perfect example of greed, where one refuses to share the wealth with the people whose blood and sweat helped create said wealth. Fairness works.

Lisa Bastien emerging as a franchise player with the Minnesota Machine

Heading into 2014, women’s football in Minnesota suffered a setback when an indoor football league opted to not field a team at Target Center (the franchise in Philadelphia was another casualty of such a decision). For a group of empowered women that competed with the Minnesota Valkyrie, it was a heartbreaking decision. From working tirelessly to building a fan base, helping to sell tickets, complemented by admirable charitable work, a better outcome was deserved.

Despite such setbacks, it would prove to be an advantage for the Minnesota Machine of the Women’s Football Alliance. Among the former Valkyrie competitors that opted to suit up for the Machine, Lisa Bastien would emerge as a franchise player. Playing for head coach Heather Baker, one of the few women in football to serve as head coach, the results were evident as Bastien’s commitment to the game resulted in strong statistical numbers.

Joined by fellow Valkyrie teammates such as Alicia Marchioni, Kelli Gillispie (who would rank third on the team in tackles) and Laurie Jo Morrison, it added an exciting new dimension to the budding Machine. A real estate agent by day, Bastien was a football superhero by night. An integral component on the field, Bastien was the team’s leader in all-purpose yardage with 1,002. Ranking second to Bastien was Erica Mois with 626. In addition, Bastien logged a team-best 407 rushing yards, complemented by 451 return yards on kickoffs, which topped all players for the Machine as well as all competitors in the WFA.

One of three Machine players to earn First-Team All-America nods (she was joined by Erica Mois at Wide Receiver and Amanda Ritzer at Tight End), she would also rank second on the club in interceptions and pass deflections. Their efforts would contribute to a proud playoff victory against the Tulsa Threat by a 35-13 tally, raising team morale and confidence for 2015.

Taking into account that Bastien is over 30, her role as one of the top performers on the Machine was absolutely inspiring. In so many sports, the age of 30 is seen as the beginning of an athlete’s decline. Proving that age is simply a state of mind, Bastien’s effort to maintaining good health and strong physical condition set a positive example.

Bastien is part of a movement in female football where many strong women are excelling past the age of 30, challenging convention and making an empowering statement. Proclaiming that effort and desire cannot be measured simply by numbers, the heart of a player is equally important. As the Machine’s long-term goals are to be one of the WFA’s elite franchises in the Midwest, akin to the impact of the Chicago Force, the efforts of Bastien are propelling the franchise in the right direction.

#lisa-bastien, #minnesota-machine