The men’s professional indoor football team Texas Revolution played their season opener against the North Texas Crunch on Feb. 15. In the third quarter, the running back got tackled three times. But number 47 kept getting back up.
At 5’2” and 130 pounds, some of the guys who hit her weighed nearly twice as much as she did. After getting taken down by a 6’4” linebacker, she looked up at him and said, “Is that all you’ve got?”
Jen Welter made history that day by becoming the first woman to play a contact position on a men’s professional football team.
In between practices over the past few years, Welter earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. When she’s not grinding on the gridiron, she’s a personal trainer and sports psychology consultant.
Welter spoke to Fusion about football, feminism, and whether we’ll ever see women playing football in the Olympics.
Above: An Instagram video of Welter's first game. She's #47.
Fusion: How did you get started playing football?
Jen Welter: I grew up in Florida, where football is a religion, like it is in Texas where I am now. I always loved the game, I always loved going out and watching it. I never had a chance to play when I was younger.
I did approach the football coach at my high school about joining the team. It was funny because he just said, “Jen, you are an athlete, and you could help my football team. But I’m a guy, and guys are the worst. You’ll make some guy look bad and he or his teammates will take a cheap shot and hurt you.” I respected that answer. It wasn’t that I was a girl - it was like “Please don’t do this to me!” He was such a good guy, he actually helped me get ready when I tried out for a women’s football team. He let me work out with his boys at the high school.
Above: Jen Welter on the field during her first game with the Texas Revolution. CREDIT: FredShots Photography
Fusion: How did you end up on the men’s team? Did you just show up for tryouts or what?
They recruited me, actually. I got a call from the president of the team and he asked me to meet with them. He asked if I would maybe be interested in going through a day of training with the guys and then doing one game. I said no. I said it was insulting to me and the guys on the team. I said if I’m going to go through that, then I’m going to do all of it - training camp and everything.
The president asked the coach if he thought that would be a problem. The coach said, “Heck no, with an attitude like that she’d be the best thing in the world for the team!”
Above: Welter takes the ball during the third quarter of the February 15 game against the North Texas Crunch. CREDIT: FredShots Photography
Fusion: Women have played pro football before, but you’re the first to do it in a non-kicking position. What does that mean?
JW: It means that there’s contact. Sometimes kickers get hit, but for the most part that’s not going to happen because it’s a penalty. What I’m doing is playing with the boys without a safety net.
Fusion: What has the response been like from fans of the Revolution? Have you gotten any hate on Twitter?
JW: There have been - of course - the haters. My favorite one was when someone said, “She’s gonna get pregnant and/or die.” I never knew it was possible to hit somebody so hard they had an immaculate conception.
Above: On the field, Welter is just one of the guys. She poses with a teammate after the game. CREDIT: FredShots Photography
Fusion: You earned your Ph.D. in psychology last year and you have a master’s in Sports Psychology. Might you be the most educated professional football player in America?
JW: Well, it’s possible, but I can’t say that it’s definitely true. I haven’t checked all the bios. (Laughs) But I’d say I’m in the top 10 percent.
Fusion: As a football player and doctor, what do you think about the controversy with brain injuries in the NFL?
JW: We know so much more now than we did previously about the game. I hate what the guys who came before me in the game of football went through, in terms of hearing “Shake it off, get back in the game, tough it out” when they got hurt. You can’t “tough out” a brain injury.
What we know now changes the game. We now know that concussions are a very real situation and they’re very detrimental. I hate that anyone had to suffer through it, but through tragedy, there’s an opportunity for growth, and that’s what has to happen now.
Fusion: What advice would you give a woman aspiring to a professional football career?
JW: Work hard every day. Really work on developing your craft. If you love the game, I encourage anybody to follow their passions, because if you love something, you’ll outwork anyone.
Fusion: Do you think we’ll see a female NFL player in our lifetimes?
JW: I hope it doesn’t come to that, to be honest. I hope we have professional women’s games. Women shouldn’t have to play against men to be professional and successful. But if a woman is good enough to play in the NFL, heck yeah, she should.
Most people don’t know this, but in December 2013, the IFAF (the International Federation of American Football, which manages teams around the world, including women’s teams) got a nod from the International Olympic Committee saying, “We like the progress that you’re making.” That nod means that there could be a bid put in for football to be an Olympic sport as early as 2017. You could see it in the Olympics as early as 2024.
That means you have to develop the (women’s) games, allow women to fully develop the teams, or else America is going to be behind in what we consider “our game.”
Fusion: Would you call yourself a feminist?
JW: Um, you know, I don’t like labels. I am for the empowerment of women, but the term “feminist” sometimes gets misused and misguided. I would say I’m a fan of the human spirit and not putting limits on people’s capabilities.
Above: Jen Welter, the first woman to get tackled in a professional men's football game. CREDIT: Rashard Dabney