Women's tackle football is growing and is being led by many lesbians
By Ross Forman
The Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) was founded in 2000 by a group of women and now has more than 1,600 women playing for 40 teams across North America – from Southern California to Montreal, from Washington to Florida.
The IWFL is a member organization of team owners founded to support the new sport of women’s tackle football. The IWFL enables its member teams to function independently, focusing on their local markets while combining resources and strategies for the successful marketing and promotion of women’s football.
Chicago Force players Sami Grisafe (left) and Angie Bandstra
Force quarterback Sami Grisafe is one of the league’s best players. She is also a lesbian. She said about 70 percent of her team is gay, such as teammate Linda Bache, a six-year veteran of the Force who plays safety, running back and wide receiver and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2005 and 2006.
“This team is about football; that’s the common thread,” said Bache, who is also the Force general manager. “We’re women who want to play football and who mostly never had the opportunity to do so until now. Gay, straight, bi-sexual, any color in the rainbow … it just doesn’t matter. The thing that unites us is our desire to play this sport. But we’d have to be blind not to know that half of our players, sponsors and fans are gay or bisexual.
“We owe the gay community a huge thanks for their continuing support. Last year our corporate sponsor, Miller Lite, made it possible for us to have our own float in Chicago’s Pride Parade. All of our players, gay and straight, had a blast riding on the float that day. It was an opportunity to acknowledge some of the people most responsible for our success - the GLBT community.”
Grisafe, 23, in her second season on the Force, was the first girl to play quarterback in a varsity game for a Division 1 high school in California, which she accomplished in 2000 while attending Redlands High School. She is now an actress and also works at a Chicago bar.
“It’s kind of fun (for) the shock value, when people learn that we play tackle football; that’s always a lot of fun to see their reaction,” said Grisafe. “Often, people just think we play volleyball or tennis.”
Grisafe’s backup is Angie Bandstra, 26, a Kansas City native who now works as a rehabilitation aide for Athletico. A wide receiver, Bandstra is in her third season on the Force.
“I think it’s all about heart and determination. If you set your mind to anything, including tackle football, you can do it,” said Bandstra, a lesbian who competed in five sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball and pole vault) at Belton (Mo.) High School and then was a two-sport athlete (basketball and softball) at Central Missouri State University.
“Pam Schaffrath [of the Force] came into the clinic where I was working [years ago] for treatment and said I needed to play on the team. I immediately told her she was out of her mind … unless I played quarterback and got to wear the red [jersey in practice so I would not get hit].”
Bandstra of course quickly learned that tackle football, even when it’s played by women, is a very physical, and at-times painful, sport. No worries, she decided.
“The first time you give and take your first hit, and get rid of the fear … well, I knew right away that I wanted to play,” Bandstra said.
The Force players range from 18 to 46 years-old, which is the average age range of players throughout the league.
“The Chicago Force has always been a team that celebrates its diversity,” Bache said. “In the course of our six-year existence, about 50 to 70 percent of the team has identified as being lesbian or bisexual. It’s an open and inclusive environment, and our teams have always had great camaraderie.”
The league championship games will be played July 26 at Holmgren Athletic Complex at North Park University. The Championship Weekend will feature the top teams in all three tiers of IWFL competition, highlighted by the elite Tier 1 National Championship.
In addition to Chicago and Detroit, the top National Champion candidates this season are the Orlando Mayhem, Boston Militia, Dallas Diamonds, Las Vegas Showgirlz, Seattle Majestics and New York Sharks, among others.