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Force Tue Jun 28 2011

Force Football: For the Love of the Game

Photos, video and text by Lauren Camplin and Ali Trumbull

They refer to themselves as the "Band of Sisters". They're teachers, singers, police officers, full-time moms and nurses.

Despite differing backgrounds, the group of over 60 women come together every week for the same reason -- to play tackle football for the Chicago Force.

"We have a camaraderie with one another and that was one of the reasons why I came back because I missed the team and I missed being around my band of sisters," said offensive lineman Rosalyn Bennett.

Formed in 2003, the Chicago Force joined the Women's Football Alliance after spending eight seasons with the Independent Women's Football League.

"The new league is an opportunity to play different competition," said George Howe, the team's director of media relations. "We were looking for new challenges after playing the same teams for eight years."

The league is not to be confused with the well-known Lingerie Football League's Chicago Bliss. The WFA women wear full gear and play tackle football. This can come as a shock even to those trying out for the team.

"Seeing what it takes to run a team was a shock to my system," said Samantha Powell, the head of gameday operations. "I had no idea all the moving parts of an offensive team and coaching staff, defensive team, special teams, special plays."

While many of the rules in the league mirror those of the NFL, there are strong differences between the two besides gender. The players in the Women's Football Alliance have to pay $600 to play on the team in order to cover expenses. Some women have multiple jobs along with being on the team.

"I'm an actress and I'm also a bartender to pay the bills and I play music," said starting quarterback Samantha Grisafe. "I have a band, The Wick, so we play all around Chicago: Double Door, Martyr's, Reggie's. That's a lot of fun. So I basically get to perform in all aspects of the word."

Bennett, the dean of students at Dyett High School, works 12 hours a day before coming to the Force's practice. She is trying to find a way to balance these two worlds with her schedule.

"I haven't mastered that yet, trying to find that balance, you know," said Bennett. "I deal with discipline, so of course, the course of my day is pretty much at times, negativity. This gives me a chance to relax from the job, the responsibilities, and to just get rid of some of that tension that I experience at the job."

While it can be a handful to balance personal and professional lives, the team gets plenty of help through fundraising and volunteers.

"Almost all of us are volunteers," said Howe. "That in itself takes a special kind of person. You have to have people like that."

The team holds golf outings, calendar raffles and bowling outings to raise money. Even with volunteers, getting a strong following is no easy task.

"The biggest obstacle is getting the word out," said Howe. "A lot of newspapers don't take small teams seriously. When you ask about women's football people think lingerie league."

Powell also agrees getting the word out is the toughest part of getting participation, adding that the team takes a "grass-roots approach" to building a fan base.

Getting attention is also difficult when the women wear full padding instead of lingerie. Force assistant coach Stacey Baker acknowledges that while the Lingerie Football League has competitive players, it doesn't compare to the type of game the Chicago Force play.

"You know how there's WWE wrestling and there's Olympic wrestling?" said Baker. "I don't really see it as football. Are there good athletes on the team? Absolutely."

Baker is one example of the athletic ability required to play in the Women's Football Alliance. After playing football for five years, she was forced to retire after enduring a neck injury last season. Despite the injury, Baker remained committed to the league and became an assistant coach.

"I couldn't stay away," said Baker. "I loved it. It's been hard not to play but I hope I'm making an impact on the team now."

Even with a dedicated team, generating interest can be difficult because of the stereotypes often affiliated with women sports.

Grisafe, who has been playing football since she was 10 years old, has dealt with the stereotypes her whole life. When asked how she responds to it, the quarterback didn't hesitate before answering.

"You show 'em."


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