True badasses: Women's tackle football changing rules in Philly, sports world
The women of the Philadelphia Phantomz hit just as hard as the men — and are close to breaking through.
Women can play football. Real football.
Not just with flags dangling from a belt or while decked out in lingerie — real tackle football.
Don't believe it? You will soon. The Philadelphia Phantomz, an organically birthed all-women's tackle football team in the WFA plays its home games in at North Philly's Gratz Field, and they play the right way.
Not for money, not for glory and not because they have to. But because they can.
"I swear I wake up dreaming about it every day," Star Wright, a North Philly native, team founder, linebacker and tight end, said. "Practice time, it's time to hit somebody. It's just a way to get some aggression out. Being a woman, being a mother, having a job, having responsibilities, it's freeing to be able to hit somebody for fun."
Women make up more than 45 percent of the NFL's weekly audience, an audience that is the biggest for any entertainment or sports programming in America. For Wright and the Phantomz, tackling like the men is not just liberating, it's the way things are supposed to be.
"It's word of mouth," she said. "We always have football in our conversations. It's taboo for the world, for women to be playing football but we get a lot of young girls interested in football."
Wright is one of many women who proudly bring their kids with them to practice. Women of all shapes, sizes, athletic and ethnic backgrounds join together on the gridiron and attack not just their opposition, but social mores, too.
"I think football is kind of like an outlet," player Sheree Lapointe, 31, said. "It's my go-to. I can't imagine myself not playing football or being a part of this organization. I think of football 24/7. I am on YouTube, I am watching it on TV, I am watching film from last year."
When you find Lapointe's teammate Rene Pfender on the field — in her pads and playing wide receiver — you'd have no idea she is 51 years old and has been a formative force in women's football. But she's just another example of the diversity and unique togetherness the women on the Phantomz share.
"I think it's just trying to get it out there," Pfender, who also kicks and punts, said, referencing the more than 800 fans who were at their last home game. "I consider myself a pioneer in the sport. Trying to take girls from playing soccer, powder-puff football and getting them into tackle football. We are just one major sponsor away from this hitting the big leagues."
The team's offensice coordinator Greg Bonner is a believer too — and he wasn't at first.
"I will say, because I went from three weeks ago to not even knowing this existed to being all in, I take the game really seriously," said Bonner, who has coached at Edison High School and who describes the Phantomz offense as a power-run scheme. "If it was able to draw me in this deep in a matter of weeks, I can only imagine the average fan."
In the ideal world the women of the Phantomz are committed to igniting, girls can grow up with the same opportunities as men — including athletics. The benefits that come with camaraderie, fitness, endurance, discipline and the countless other football-entrenched character traits men are privy to should, and finally are, becoming more available to women. And they are taking advantage.
"Sometimes as men, we take for granted that we are able play this game from the time we are 5 all the way up," Bonner said. "Because their opportunities are more limited they are more focused. They take pride in every single rep."
"To be able to hit somebody and have the same level of contact you see from the men, it's just a great feeling," Phantomz quarterback, safety and cornerback Satoria Bell, 26, said. "Sometimes when you watch film they don't notice it's a girl."
The team's next home game is on May 6.