'They're proving themselves as athletes, as women trying to play football. There's a whole different level of passion involved. Plus, women are known for being more emotional than men," says So Cal Scorpions player Jody Taylor. "Now imagine you have two women on the line [ready to charge at] each other -- we almost had a brawl on Saturday, there was so much emotion charged up." The Scorpions have been playing in the Women's Professional Football League since 2004. Because they have no corporate sponsors and are not on television, female professional football players are unable to make a living from the sport. The Scorpions are able to pay each player $75 per game, in an eight-game season.
"You can't always count on your gate," explains Taylor, adding that many tickets are given to community organizations and that the team is lucky if ticket prices cover the operating costs.
The Women's Professional Football League plays by the same rules as the NFL, with three exceptions: the ball is a TDY 1000 (smaller than the 28-inch-long NFL ball), the play clock is 25 seconds rather than 45, and the kickoff is from the 45-yard line instead of the 30.
"It's full contact," says Taylor. "People will come and say, 'Wow, these kids from La Jolla are big,' and we're, like, 'Yeah, those are women,' and they're, like, 'You're kidding me! Those are women hitting [each other] that hard?' I've seen broken legs and arms; broken fingers are pretty much like breaking a nail for us."
Desiree Weimann, #2, suffered a debilitating injury to her neck two years ago. "She's a peanut: 116 pounds. A real gamer," says Taylor. "We were playing the Long Beach team, and she hit another player mid-sternum and spun around and landed face down. She didn't know if she'd walk again. Now it's last year, and she comes to tryouts, and Ann [Bagala, the team's owner] was, like, 'Desiree? No way.'" Weimann insisted she was not done playing and managed to get clearance from her neurologist after six months of rehab.
Three women on the team wear the Xena line of shoulder pads, which have extra padding for breasts, but most of the players stick with men's gear. "Women's torsos are shorter, so men's shoulder pads fit to give you breast protection. In the beginning, people thought this wasn't going to last," Taylor says of the league, which is in its ninth year. "But now vendors are coming out with more products for women, like sports bras with hard plastic shells and female mouthpieces."
Scorpions players come from all walks of life. "We have a couple of cops, a Marine, moms, and a nursing student," says Taylor. Over 100 women try out every season, and many players are recruited. Crystal Stokes, #61, was recruited by Taylor and Bagala while driving on I-8. "We're driving down the 8 at 70 miles per hour, and I look over and see these super, Lela Ali-cut arms, and I screamed out the window, 'Have you ever thought about playing football?' She screamed back, 'Let's pull over!' She's in the Marines to become a drill instructor, she's hard core, but she's also kind of like a Gidge -- the first time she nailed someone she got up and said, 'Yay, me!' She runs like a gazelle, and now she's our starting defensive end and averages two to three sacks every game."
Being big and strong, says Taylor, does not mean one must sacrifice femininity. "There's a split picture of Lela Ali, where on one side she's in an evening gown, and on the other side she's beating the hell out of somebody. You can still be a girlie-girl and have muscle." Tarrah Philpott, #52 and a linebacker, "does wedding planning, and one time she came to the stadium holding her shoulder pads and helmet, wearing a little black dress and pumps, and she left the game with a broken nose," recalls Taylor.
Not everyone is ready to accept women on the football field. "It's mostly elderly women who think we shouldn't be doing this. They're stuck in the mind-set that we should be at home, cooking for our husbands. In five years, I remember only two incidents where I've had guys challenge us." One of those times, Taylor was hanging out with Michelle Starks, #72. "We had one of those stress balls that you squeeze, and it looked like a football. This guy said, 'What a joke, women playing football.' I said, 'I'll accept that on one condition: You go over there, about 20 feet away, and I'm going to throw this ball, and you've got to catch it and run back to me.' He was, like, 'That's it?' and I said, 'Yeah, but first you have to get past her,' and Michelle, who is 320 pounds and six feet tall, stood up. He backed down." -- Barbarella
So Cal Scorpions vs. the New Mexico Burn
Saturday, September 23
Edward's Stadium (next to La Jolla High School)
750 Nautilus Street
Info: 877-717-8464 or www.socalscorpions.com