This year I am a wide receiver and defensive back for Andover’s JV Football Team. When people find out, I get the same three questions (usually in this order): are you a cheerleader? A manager? The kicker?
The fourth question I get all the time is why I decided to play. Long story short, I love the game. I have loved playing football since I was younger, and even more than that I have long admired the sport. I respect the athletic and mental strength it takes to play, and I am really drawn to the family aspect of the team. Football is a sport that requires every single person on the team to not only work coherently but also to look out for each other. Every lineman has to hit their block or the quarterback is going to get sacked; we all rely on each other to know each and every formation and play so that someone isn’t hurt by our mistake. The athleticism of football draws fans, but the family you find in football is what makes a community. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
Speaking of the team, I want to point out that I truly do feel supported by the guys. To be honest, this was a pleasant surprise; I definitely expected more pushback than I received. I have so much gratitude for my coaches for their overwhelming and incredible support, and also for my team. In the end, that is what we are, and the fact that I’m built a little bit differently doesn’t change that.
However, there have definitely been some challenges. There are the ones that are more easily overcome, like the fact that shoulder pads were not made for people with breasts, but there are some that seem more insurmountable. Communicating with one another has been a big one. I’ve learned that football has its own language; not just the vocabulary, but the way that players talk to one another. Historically, football is a “man’s sport”. It is violent and aggressive, and it breeds a standard of hypermasculinity which is distinctly reflected in how people talk on the field. As someone whose experience in that type of environment is limited, I sometimes find myself feeling like I’m not quite fluent in that language. I really want to stress that this is not a one-way process. When I was younger and competing in competitive horseback riding, a female-dominated sport, I vividly remember having the same barrier between the girls and a boy who joined the team. We just couldn’t seem to find our common language.
Despite any adversity, I credit this experience with helping me understand more about myself. For me, being in a hyper-masculine environment made it hard to understand where I stood on the subject of femininity. I found myself asking, can I still be feminine and play football? It’s something I grappled with a little bit; on the field, I felt like I should talk at a lower pitch and tie my hair back. Off the field, I felt like I should overcompensate by wearing feminine clothes and makeup. I have come to see that this standard was imposed on me by myself. Although others might have their perceptions, I’m comfortable being me, whatever that means about my femininity.
In the end, all that I hope for when I step onto the field is to have the opportunity to not be a girl playing football but to be a football player who’s a girl. Proudly. Outside of this season, outside of me, and outside of football, I hope that we can all become more adept at speaking to one another; we’re all people, and despite any gender difference, I hope we can find our common language.