Historic impact

Canadian players show support for Welter and her historic impact 

Quickly becoming one of the great sporting moments of 2014, Dr. Jen Welter competing with the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League is making sports history. As the first female to compete in a contact position against men, it is a story that has made international headlines. From appearances on NBC’s Today Show to late night talk show Arsenio, Welter is helping introduce an entire generation of women to the notion that women can also grace the gridiron.

Having competed with the US squad that captured the gold medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships in Vantaa, Finland, Welter has already established herself as one of the premier competitors in the women’s game. With the gold medal match having taken place against archrival Canada, many of the female gridiron gladiators north of the border have taken attention to Welter’s groundbreaking impact.

One of the captains for the Canadian contingent at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships in Vantaa, Finland, Trina Graves was not able to play against Welter in the gold medal game. Despite the disappointment of being unable to play, Graves, one of the greatest competitors in the history of the Saint John Storm franchise, acknowledges the impact of Welter.

“Unfortunately with my MCL being torn at the end of the game against Finland I did not get to play against the US this time. Yet, she is a huge name in our sport and I think it is fantastic that she has been successful with the men’s team.

I hope the spotlight that will be put on her participation on the men’s team and her success there will encourage more women to try playing in women’s leagues everywhere.”

Having travelled to Finland as a gesture of support for the Canadian contingent was Kait DiNunzio. A competitive bodybuilder and a member of the Alberta provincial team that competed at the 2012 Canadian nationals, DiNunzio also serves in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League in an executive capacity. An empowering and remarkable indvidiual herself, DiNunzio had the opportunity to meet Welter during her time in Finland,

“After meeting Jen in Finland, I am not at all shocked that she’s become a household name. She is a strong and educated woman who has an unbelievable drive.  She’s inspirational; but you know. .. that word gets tossed around a lot these days. I guess to really sum it up; I have been watching her story unfold with pride. She is a straight talker and does not candy coat a conversation and you can tell from talking to her that she is a vet in the sport of football.

I am confident that she will get her reps on the field – the only thing I want her to be is safe.  It takes a lot of hard work and effort to make it to where she has gotten, but it takes a lot more work to change a culture. The culture of football is a strong one; you can see it in the comments on social media when Jen’s stories are shared.  To some extent, you could probably chalk it up to jealousy, but in most instances, it is total outrage because when you look at the history of football, it’s a “man’s sport”. For instance, every time I tell someone I play football, they assume I’m speaking of soccer.

For another Canadian football player with ties to the WWCFL, an unexpected encounter with Welter would lead to a positive and empowering experience. Tanya Henderson, one of the rising stars for the Edmonton Storm, participated at the inaugural World Women’s Football Games in Arlington, Texas.

Along with several other participants from the Games, Henderson would actually be in the stands to watch football history unfold as Welter suited up for her first-ever match with the Texas Revolution. It would be a pleasant surprise for Henderson and her fellow gridiron participants to have Welter actually speak to them on the final day of the Games.

“We actually saw her first game with them when I was down in Texas for the Women’s world football games. It’s funny, I had actually read a tweet about Jen Welter practicing with a men’s team on my way down to Texas. I found out she played with some of the ladies at the camp as well.

Jen showed up at out last day of practices, and every word that left her mouth was nothing short of inspirational. Being able to experience her first time on the field was magical.”

Saadia Ashraf, the starting quarterback for the Montreal Blitz, and a member of two silver-medal winning Canadian teams in the IFAF Women’s Worlds, is an influential female athlete in the city of Montreal. Helping to shatter barriers and change the cultural norm, Ashraf is emerging as one of the great female sporting pioneers in a proud sports city. In reflecting on Welter’s efforts, it is one that Ashraf sees with support,

“I am happy for her and support her effort to further the sport and follow her dream. She is doing what she believes in and that is great.”

Blitz teammate Jenn DeGuise, who also played with Ashraf at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, shares a common sporting background with Welter. Both have participated in varsity rugby at the university level; DeGuise suiting up for the Concordia Stingers in Montreal while Welter was a member of the Boston College Eagles program.

“I just want to start by saying congrats to her for making it on a men’s football team at that level and breaking down those barriers. I think the fact that she has done this has really drawn a lot of attention across North America, even Europe, that women DO and CAN play tackle football!

If what Welter is doing is going to bring attention to “women playing football” than that is great and it is about time. Too many women across the world have been playing REAL football for far too long for it to continue to go unnoticed.”

With a few weeks having passed since Henderson’s experience at the Games, she has had the opportunity to absorb the events that have transpired. In reflecting on the historic accomplishments of Welter, it has only served to provide her with an even greater motivation and desire to succeed,

“Since getting home from the event I realized how big the fact she is playing on a men’s team really is. Every time she gets hit, and pops back up it is completely symbolic for all of us players. She proves that women can play with men; that women can take hits and get back up, and not cry.

She proves that women are not fragile, they are strong and resilient. She has the world of women’s football on her shoulder right now. This is a breakthrough moment for all of us lady footballers.”

DiNunzio also believes in the impact of Welter’s efforts. Observing that this could serve as a catalyst in the growth of the female game, DiNunzio understands the responsibility other players have to set a positive example.

“We have been working to break the barriers and create an opportunity for women in football for years, but if you look at where we are in our journey, we are where women’s hockey was 20 years ago. We have a long way to go – the pioneers like Jen are setting the stage, we just need to follow up with helping set the tone and managing the culture change; that is definitely not easy considering that change in itself is hard; it is even harder when it is not being actively managed. Trust me – my whole world is about change leadership, all I do is manage other people’s change for a living.

Do I see women playing fully integrated football with men? Probably not – but is she making history and helping blaze the trail for more women to get involved and be a part of a national movement of women in football? Absolutely – and that is definitely something to be proud of.”

While Welter has helped open new doors for women, challenging convention the way sporting legends such as Manon Rheaume did in hockey and Anne Donovan in basketball when they played with men, there is no question that her impact is significant. As Canada’s finest female footballers prepare to begin their 2014 regular seasons, there is no denying that Welter’s accomplishments are providing an exciting sense of motivation and desire to succeed,

“She has opened the doors to growth for the sport, and shows that you do not have to play in lingerie to get your name out there. Like I tweeted a few days ago, Oxford should be changing the definition of resilience to Jen Welter. She is an idol and a hero. Someone every little girl should look up too.” Henderson continued, “Most of all Jen has showed the world that you can NEVER dream to big. For us players this opens so many doors for us now and down the road.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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