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Tackling Stereotypes

by University Relations

While many consider football the archetypal sport of men, Natalie Gorman ’12 boldly defies the notion. And her success starting and running a women’s football team in Murrieta, California, validates her stance. The West Coast Lightning finished their first season, with five team members, including Gorman, making the All-Star team.

For those who see the sport as violent and uncongenial to women, Gorman has a ready response. “It is a sport of strategy,” she explains. “It’s like chess. Everyone on the field must understand her own role and how she contributes. Brute force alone won’t do it.”

More importantly, Gorman finds the sport beneficial to women’s health and body image. “This isn’t lingerie football, it’s real tackle football, and a football team needs all sorts of body types. Fat, skinny, short, tall, fast, slow—there’s a place for everyone on a football team. Of course, as we train, we learn about proper diet and exercise, and we lose weight whether we mean to or not. In six months, you lose 15 lbs. without knowing it. Team sports don’t feel like work, and tackling someone is a great stress reliever.”

The team draws college graduates, nurses, teachers, homemakers, musicians, and professionals. Gorman—an information technology specialist, mother, and retired Marine—manages the team with her husband, and knows that the most important aspect to these women is a sense of family.

“We have a player who told us she never before felt she belonged anywhere—not in high school and not beyond. At the end of the season, she told us, ‘I really feel like I found my place. Nobody tells me I’m too fat or too slow to be on a team.’”

The team extends this family by partnering with a residential foster home. Gorman recalls what happened the day they set up a flag football game. One girl expressed her hostility to the idea by crossing her arms in the corner, complaining, and asking permission to return to her room. When they broke into smaller groups to learn positions, the girl opened up a bit. Soon she found herself in the game. “By the end,” Gorman said, “she was giving out high fives and saying it was the best time she’d had in months. As we left, she was crying when she said, ‘Come back, nobody ever comes to see us.’”

This chance to build relationships inspires Gorman. “It would be easier to just send them some Christmas gifts or donations rather than sitting down and having conversations with them, but what these kids really need is someone who will listen.”

Gorman and her teammates not only lend an ear, but also their time and training, proving that “real” women can indeed bond over football and may even use it to change the world.

Originally published in the Spring '13 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).