Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

0 to Fearless in 60 Minutes

Written by Jordyn White
People glance back at me with shock and amazement when I tell them I play professional women’s full-contact football. When I tell them that deciding to play was the best decision I ever made, you should see how their expressions dim. Football? “Three grueling nights a week, no actual salary, buy your own equipment and pay your own insurance” football? “No glitz, no glamour, lucky to get a quarter page in the city paper or a two minute clip on the local evening news” football? Yup—that’s the one. I write, sing, speak two languages, and have two degrees. But if I had never accomplished any of these, I’m still absolutely sure football would have helped me find my place in the world. And here’s why.
People glance back at me with shock and amazement when I tell them I play professional women’s full contact football. When I tell them that deciding to play was the best decision I ever made, you should see how their expressions dim. Football? Three grueling nights a week, no actual salary, buy your own equipment and pay your own insurance, football? No glitz, no glamour, lucky to get a quarter page in the city paper or a two minute clip on the local evening news, football? Yup—that’s the one. I write, sing, speak two languages, and have a BS in Psychology and an MS in Criminal Justice. But if I had never accomplished any of these things, I’m still absolutely sure football would have helped me find my place in the world. One of my favorite quotes comes from Marianne Williamson’s "Our Deepest Fear." *

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure...”

As an overachiever and someone who’s incredibly competitive, I am all too familiar with fears of  inadequacy—not measuring up, not getting the job, making the grade, the cut…I’m hard on myself, because I always want to do more, and do better. When I first thought about being “powerful beyond measure,” I wasn’t expecting to go all Peter Parker and suddenly tap into some newfound superhero quality, but that’s exactly what happened. Ten Saturdays a year I put on my under-armor spidersuit, my batsuit made up of my pads and helmet, and then I put on my Wonder Woman gloves and seek to bring justice to my 100x53 yard piece of the universe.

“We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

When a co-worker told me she heard there was a women’s football team, I was interested because I had always enjoyed watching football on television and in person. I was even more intrigued by (and doubtful of) the entire concept, because I had always viewed full-contact football as the one sport I, an average-sized, non-soccer playing female, couldn't ever play. I say average because some larger girls play as linemen on high school teams, and non-soccer because girls who play soccer often try to get on teams as kickers.

Still, I worked out like a madwoman in the weeks prior to tryouts; real football or not, I wasn’t going to let anyone show me up. I met the team’s quarterback—a former professional beach volleyball player with long curly hair and the perfect tan—first. “Yup. Just what I expected,” I thought. “Not gridiron at all.” I carried those speculations with me through the first month of practices as we were indoors doing calisthenics and learning basic drills (i.e. what a three-point stance is). But in one practice—the first tackling practice—everything changed. Still inside, because Philly’s Februarys very closely resemble Juneau, Alaska’s, our coaches lined us up on tumbling pads inside the gymnastics room of the YMCA to walk through form tackling. When I wrapped my arms around my teammate and drove her down to that blue pad, I knew I had arrived. I was thrilled to death and hadn’t yet donned one piece of equipment. I thought to myself, “So, when I’m wearing the pads, I can run full speed towards you, hit you as hard as possible, and then we can both get up unscathed and do it again? Does life get any better?” Why had I thought women couldn’t do this? Why did I think we couldn’t have our patent leather pumps and pigskin, too?

“Your playing small does not serve the world.”

Three years came and went. I was a seasoned player, smart, and versatile—I was pretty damn good. But not great. One weeknight at film (a point in the week when we get together to watch and analyze our past plays, and those of our upcoming opponents), my coach showed up with packets that dissected every player on every play of our last game—a close loss to a team we should have easily beaten. I was frequently commended for knowledge of the plays, but I was rebuked this time for lack of effort. My coach spouted: “As a running back, no one man EVER brings you down...Juke, spin, stiff-arm—ANYTHING—just get through the hole!” I thought I HAD in fact been playing up to my potential; he knew differently.

“We are all meant to shine…”

Coach had made me feel inadequate, and that made me furious. I stepped onto the turf the following Saturday determined to make the other team pay for last week’s “small-play.” I was game MVP that night and went on to be offensive MVP for that season. Never again will I believe there’s a ceiling over my ability or walls around my potential.

“It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.”

Let me tell you about one-stop shopping. You want something done, ask a women’s football player to do it. Between us we can change your brake pads, diapers, draft affidavits, itemize deductions, mix martinis, issue warrants, and bake a mean zucchini bread in the kitchen we just remodeled. And that ain’t the half of it. But still, the beauty of football is that when we’re on the field, wearing the same colors, none of it matters. Whether you have two degrees or two kids or two cats is of little importance once that ball is snapped.

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

As my teammate and I de-boarded a plane on our way home from an off-season flag football tournament (I’m telling you, this sport is addictive), we spotted a little girl waiting to board the plane with her father and baby brother. She was about seven and wore a New York Giants hat over a messy ponytail and an Eli Manning jersey that looked like it spent more time on her body than in the drawer. I stopped and struck up a conversation with her father and handed the girl one of my player cards with a picture on the front of me making a tackle. After clarifying that it was actually me on there and not a Redskin (what seven-year-old knows that much about the NFC East?), she looked at the card, then up at me, then back at the card, and said, “You play football? Luuuuhhhhh-key.” I’m pretty sure I made her day. More importantly, though, I hope I helped her see that she doesn’t have to love football, or any passion, from a distance. If she wants it, she can have it.

I’m fearless. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know where I’m going to end up in the next five months, let alone five years, but that doesn’t stop me from charging forward with full confidence. I’m not afraid to try new things, and I’m also not afraid to fail. It happens. But it teaches you, and strengthens you. I’ve hung my head after missed tackles and shed a tear after lost games, but there’s always the next play, next game, next season to try it again and get it right. Football mirrors life in so many ways; from concepts as elementary as learning to play well with others, to more mature notions like testing physical and mental limits and making quick decisions in high pressure situations—everything you need to know can be learned right there on the field. I’m going to keep living and playing to the fullest, hoping that each pursuit will allow me to empower others to do the same.
 
* Additional quotes from this book are peppered throughout this piece, always bringing home the kind of sentiments I would like to emphasize. 

Share this post