One of the true living legends in American women’s football, Dr. Jen Welter has managed to shatter another barrier. On January 24, Welter would sign a contract to try out for the Texas Revolution of the IFL. A four-time world champion with the Dallas Diamonds (currently in the Women’s Football Alliance), Welter has also claimed two IFAF titles with Team USA.
Holding a jersey with her trademark number 47 adorning the front and back, Welter was all smiles at the press conference in Crest Cadillac of Plano. Joining her were head coach Chris Williams and general manager, former Oakland Raiders great, Tim Brown.
A legendary linebacker in the realm of women’s football, Welter has been signed by the Revolution as a running back. Although it is a new position for Welter, it marks the first time that a woman has been signed by a men’s football team to compete at the running back position.
Of note, kicker Katie Hnida broke ground a few years earlier as the first female to compete in the Continental Indoor Football League. During the 2010 campaign, she was a member of the Fort Wayne FireHawks roster. Following in Hnida’s footsteps was Julie Harshberger. Despite being the second woman to participate in the CIFL, she would be the first to register a field goal. As a side note, WFA rival Lisa Horton played quarterback for the men’s semi-pro club, Pittsburgh Colts.
With a week-long training camp that begins on February 8, it does not allow Welter an adequate amount of time to learn the position. While many players on the team have indicated their support, there is no question that a roster spot shall be an earned one. As a former rugby player with Boston College, she certainly has the toughness to endure the physical demands that come with the position.
Another advantage is the fact that with her muscular 5’2” frame, she has a low centre of gravity that should make her difficult to contain. As the famous wrestling announcer Jim Ross used to say, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” No one can dispute that Welter has the heart of a giant, with the ambition to match.
Although it will be difficult to truly evaluate Welter’s potential in such a short time span, one of the great legacies of Welter’s career is her ability to help increase awareness of the female game. From her heartwarming blogs with USA Football to her vocation as a sports psychologist along with her involvement as a radio broadcaster, her career is the embodiment of what women can accomplish when given the chance.
She has also worked tirelessly to provide messages of empowerment to women about the game. From the friendships made on the football field to the positive reinforcement about body image, Welter has become more than just an influence for women, but a valued friend.
As the early years of the 21st Century continue to see women make a tremendous impact in all sports, Welter’s signing is reminiscent of Tiffany Brooks. A right-handed pitcher and first baseman, she would sign a contract to compete in the Independent League Baseball. It would make her the first female signed to play pro men’s baseball.
During Super Bowl week in New York City, Welter was one of several Team USA players that visited the Big Apple. Welter would have the privilege to be interviewed by legendary TV host Geraldo Rivera. From the corporate support shown by Verizon and DKNY (Donna Karan New York) where advertising campaigns showed women and football together, the female game is poised to enter a renaissance.
Whether the next chapter in Welter’s career will take place on February 15 in the Revolution’s season opener versus the North Texas Crunch is not the real story. The true tale is how it may help portray female football in a long overdue positive light, helping to associate women and the game in a manner which deserves to be seen as acceptable. In 1992, female goaltender Manon Rheaume did not make the final roster for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, but it inspired an entire generation of girls to compete in hockey. Welter is shattering a barrier which may be the catalyst towards inspiring girls to attempt a sport that they never dreamed possible.
Images by Brad Townsend/Dallas Morning News