Rain was falling from the sky with a brutality that rivaled the offensive line of the opposing football team. And there I stood, wet up to my calves, grasping an insufficient umbrella that was no match for the violent wind and rain rapping my face. The Kennedy Eagles had yet to win one game this season, and this final game was not going to change that record. The weather was deplorable; it was as if the heavens recognized our gross insufficiency and was weeping for our embarrassment. But the question on my mind wasn’t “Why can’t we win one game?” , rather, “why am I standing here?” I was not and never had been a person who even faintly cared for sports , and football was one I found particularly annoying. Yet, there I was standing on the 10 yard line, umbrella in one hand, water bottles in the other. Our team played 15 games that year, and I was on the sidelines for every annihilation. I could thank my stupid mouth for my fate, but the real culprit was my feminist pride.
As a young girl, I developed a level of self righteousness that is required for survival when you live in a chauvinistic home. All of my ideas and insights were frivolous in the eyes of my father, brother, and even my mother at times. It was their general belief that I lacked basic common sense, and they told me this on a regular basis. Some girls would internalize their pain and develop an attitude of self loathing, or maybe they would opt for a good old fashioned eating disorder, but I didn’t work that way. As I grew, I developed a sarcastic wit that my father could not argue with, and instead of punishing me for my challenging behavior, he grew to respect me for it.
At the beginning of senior year, my graduating class was ushered into the gymnasium for cheerleading and football tryout information. I, however, despised both disciplines. Sitting through the twenty minute lecture gave me ample time to develop an argument and build up my nerve to initiate it; finally, it was time to leap into the spotlight and become my school’s own “Rosie the Riveter.” During the Q and A period, I waited for the traditional questions to be answered; then, I lifted my hand, stood to my feet, looked the football coach dead in the eyes and said, “Yes, I was wondering if I could sign up for football tryouts; I realize that traditionally only boys try out, but I would also like to .” The entire gymnasium erupted in laughter; I measured a miniscule 5 foot zero and weighed 100bls on a good day, but I stood there, unwavering, ready for a fight. Coach Marshall’s mouth dropped open; he stood there resembling a cod before the catch, but he recognized my challenge, and he was ready to take me on. He was not laughing. He began to stammer, “Uh..well…I..” Hah! I thought, “ Now I’ve got him.” His face had gone white; my father exhibited that look on many occasions, and to me, it never got old. “Sure!” he said. “Come by tomorrow and we will test you out.” “What!” I must have heard him wrong. Where was the argument; this is not how this scenario was supposed to play out? It was as if he stopped time and removed my five foot frame from the carefully constructed soap box I thought I had climbed upon. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew that I could not back down now; I had to show up at tryouts.
Saturday morning, 8 am sharp, I was there among the crowd. I felt as ridiculous as I looked. Before the tryouts became too involved, Coach Marshall pulled me aside and said, “Look, young lady, I know you don’t really want to play football, but as coach, it is my duty to place each person who tries out either on the bench or in a uniform, so here is what I am going to do. I will give you a jersey that you will wear every Friday, and in exchange, you will be our ‘equipment manager’; is that a deal?” Before contemplating my options, I quickly agreed. I was just relieved that he saved me the embarrassment of actually running plays. Coach walked me over to a large, broken down box full of rancid blue and white jerseys. I knew the team was laughing as I picked out the cleanest uniform in the pile; however, I was not about to let anyone see me sweat; I would ride this charade out until the bitter end, and convince myself I was still a credit to the female race for having the nerve to take on the high school football establishment. I plastered a smile on my face and quickly put the jersey on. When tryouts came to a close, I was given game information and a permission slip. I hadn’t even thought about how I was going to explain this to my parents.
During the next 4 months, I hauled sweaty equipment, taped up hairy sprained ankles, ran water onto the field, and serviced the needs of dozens of post-pubescent boys; I did what every generation of women did before me; I catered to the opposite sex. So much for feminism.