Here in the Boston area we have a championship football team. They are highly-skilled and they are fierce, offering a demonstration of athletics and collegiality with every game. Maybe you’ve heard of them?
The Boston Renegades (did you think I was going to say The Patriots? Nah!) are a team in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). They are four-time back-to-back winners of the WFA Pro National championship game, with an earlier win making them 5x champions. In addition to the “big wins” the Renegades have a 31 game winning streak going, with their last losing game dating back to April 2018.
The team consists of individual record-holders in their specialty sub-fields, and several players recently competed in the 2022 IFAF Women’s World Championship games. Eight Renegades and their coach brought home the gold for Team USA this month. With a wealth of diversity, the Renegades are a well-rounded team of athletes that deserve kudos and celebrations like their male counterparts.
I first found out about the team a few years ago when I became acquainted with one of the players. Despite the home games being played just a few miles from my house, I had never heard of them until I met this player. At the time she was working a full-time job, a part-time job, and growing her family, while also being a supportive teammate and strong competitor. She invited folks in our shared network to come to a game and support the team, and my spouse and I have been going every season since then.
Having been to many professional sports games in the past, I wasn’t sure what to expect given that the stadium where they play was much smaller. When I arrived I quickly noted that fans could bring in food and drinks, seating was not reserved and informal, and most fans in attendance sported team apparel. The relaxed atmosphere felt incredibly welcoming, and it was easy to see how much easier it would be for families with young children to attend and not have to limit their belongings to the bare necessities or what would fit in a clear, small backpack (a requirement at most major league stadiums these days). My group quickly honed in on what we think of as “our seats” and set about supporting the on-site vendors. The ticket prices are reasonable, the food vendors on-site don’t increase their regular prices for “stadium fare” and the games are fun! They even have the “End Zone Militia” at every game, ready to fire off their muskets at each Renegade point scored, prompting the announcer to whoop “here comes the boom” before they unload. Many in my group knit or crochet, so some of us often have a project going, along with a good bit of conversation, while also watching the game. Some of us (that would be me) don’t really understand the rules of football very well, but are happy to be in the environment having a nice time with friends and supporting a great team.
What makes this team great? I already mentioned their winning streak and championships, which I think speaks to their football skills and abilities. But from the first game I attended, it was easy to see how this team, this environment, was different from other professional games I have seen. The team camaraderie, the way these players care for one another, is so easy to see. The players connect with their fans in the stadium, and you can see them looking for their loved ones in the seats throughout the game. In 2019 a player from an opposing team got injured during a Renegades home game. Her injuries required her to stay in a Boston hospital for several weeks. While the player’s team set up a gofundme page to help with expenses, members of the Renegades shared that link with their fans and on their team page. A team member with an empty rental unit offered the injured player’s family use of the rental, and Renegades players reached out to their networks to furnish the unit with linens, cookware, and furniture for the family to be as comfortable as possible while they were caring for their loved one.
One thing that stands out in the story above, aside from a community banding together to support one of their members, is that the injured player (and family) was reliant upon gofundme donations and other types of financial support. While this is a professional football league, the players do not earn anything close to a living wage playing the sport, let alone the mega salaries we see reflected in the National Football League. Most of the WFA players work outside jobs. The teams do have corporate sponsors, but they are often local businesses rather than national corporations. When players travel to away games, championships, and even the IFAF World Championship they set up fundraisers to offset the travel expenses. The team holds a 50/50 raffle at every home game, and the person selling the tickets is usually one of the team owners. It is an “all hands on deck” situation, and everyone does their part to make it work. Despite that, it is easy to see the differences in financial and community support between the Renegades and the Patriots!
Do these differences matter? No one team or league can be exactly like each other, right?! Right! The mega salaries that NFL players make are not the same as the mega salaries that NBA players make… they’re just very similar. Obviously a critical difference between the NFL and the WFA is the gender of the players. This impacts how much media attention, funding, and other crucial support the WFA teams get versus the NFL. A neighbor recently decorated their boat with all the local sports teams for our local boat parade – Celtics, Patriots, Bruins… but no Renegades. When I suggested they needed an addition to their “boat costume” they weren’t sure who the Renegades were. In other discussions about why I enjoy watching the Renegades play I’ve had men tell me they would rather watch the “lingerie league” football games.
Representation matters! Diversity, equality, and equity in sport are all needed. It is easy to see this if you have ever been at a Renegades game, watching the players excitedly sign autographs for kids after the game, posing for pictures with their exhausted bodies and beaming smiles. These teams and leagues need our support just as much as we need their spirit and passion while we all push the limitations imposed on women’s sports.
Want to know more about women’s tackle football? Born To Play is a great documentary featuring the Renegades: https://vimeo.com/433214324.
Do you have a favorite WFA team? Another women’s sport that you love? Please share in the comments!
Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.