I hate her. I’ve never seen her before, and don’t know her, but I don’t need to. I see what she looks like. I see what she’s wearing. I see who she’s with. That tells me everything I need to know. She can’t be trusted–her kind never can–and all she wants is to push her own agenda and obliviate mine. So, for the next hour, my sisters and I will do everything in our power to show her and her little girl gang how we feel about having to share our turf with them. They will leave here, battered and bruised, with their heads down and their tails between their legs. And we will remain superior.
My fervor for this sectarian battle into which I am all too eager to enter has nothing to do with race or skin color. When my opponent is in her war gear, all I can see on her is the white in her eyes. But her armor– helmet, pads, uniform, socks, gloves, cleats–makes her readily identifiable. I’m a linebacker on a women’s semi-professional full contact football team, the DC Divas. Eleven Saturdays a year, for 3 hours, my teammates and I put on our maroon, gold, and white, and go to war.
Women’s football? I know, I know. A seemingly unfathomable mix of delicacy and draconian male ritual. The questions and looks I receive make me think people doubt not just my ability to play tackle football, but also my intellect and speech capabilities. “Did you HEAR me when I SAID ‘professional rules, all the equipment, just like you see on TV?’ Did the term ‘powder puff’ ever come out of my mouth? Yes, me. YES, linebacker. Yes, I do like to hit, sir. That’s why I’m a linebacker…like I said. No, I don’t want to tackle you. Yes, I could, but I’m not going to. Sheesh.” However, I do enjoy defying the stereotypes and the notion that only men and exceptionally Amazonian high school girls who wear down their team’s coach can play this glorious sport.
I’m 5’9″, medium build–a combination that makes me very well suited to play this sport. One of my teammates is 5’3″ (5’4″ in the right shoes), and has to wear youth shoulder pads because the adult ones are too bulky for her small frame. She was last season’s interception leader and defensive MVP. I have another teammate who’s 296 pounds, who takes to makeup and dresses the way a vampire takes to holy water, and would be rich if she had a nickel for every time someone called her “sir.” Clearly, she is JUST the kind of woman the team needs.
In a world where women define physical perfection as “that which I am not” and are on a perpetual search for the foundation/dress/hair dye/shoes/diet/surgery that will bring them closer to their (virtually unattainable) flawless ideal, it is so refreshing to know there is a room and appreciation enough here on this team for all of our shapes and sizes. And we’re proud of the way we are; who else but an athlete would post her weight on the World Wide Web?
What makes me most proud about this team, though, is the way race never comes into play. It is so refreshing, after a day full of corporate politics and hierarchy, social tension, pretense, and unspoken notions of superiority and inferiority, to retreat to a place where your work ethic, and not your skin, does all the talking. Our quarterback is Scottish; she’s not the team leader because she’s white, she’s there because she’s good. If you miss one of her bullets and let it hit you in the gut, you won’t have the audacity (or the wind left) to even utter the words “preferential treatment.”
There’s a Latina on the offensive line who hits me harder in practice than I get hit by my opponents in a game. There’s no room for stereotypes on a team where your black ex-track runners are neck-and-neck with their white counterparts in team sprints. When you see the other team’s offense break their huddle, there’s no time to complain about your defensive leader being black or to question the play she just called.
There’s only time to work. Together. The only colors that matter are the maroon and the gold. If you are wearing those, you are my sister. You share my dream, and have my back. I don’t have to tell you where I am on the field because you feel me moving with you. Out here, we are one.
When you are made to interact with a person whom you normally would not, and approach the situation with an open mind, you are bound to find at least one thing the two of you have in common. It may not be race, food, music, clothes, or anything else readily apparent, but sometimes it’s more enlightening to find out you have the same pre-game ritual or that you were both right wings on your high school’s soccer team than it is to notice you have the same pair of Nikes. I have 75 teammates–75 sisters–and I promise you that I can look into any of their eyes and see a piece of myself looking back. That harmony is priceless.