On a drizzling day last winter, Rebecca Samuelson drove from her job at Redfin, a technology startup in Seattle, about an hour south to a high-school football field in the city of Kent. When she arrived, it had already been dark for at least an hour. She quickly changed and headed out to the field to practice alongside the other 30-some members of the Seattle Majestics, a full-contact, 11-on-11 women’s football team. There, she and the rest of the Majestics ran drills, practiced plays, and otherwise prepared for their season, which takes place each spring. She got home around 10:30 or 11 pm, sore and bleeding, and went to bed, mentally preparing to face not only another full day at the office, but also the gym, practice, fundraisers, and any other team-required activities the next day.
And she paid for the pleasure to do so.
Though it’s been over 40 years since the passage of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, disparities in funding and opportunities for women in sports persist. While 40 percent of high-school girls play a sport, women receive roughly $183 million less than their male counterparts in athletic scholarships from the NCAA. After college graduation, women have incredibly limited opportunities to continue in sports, and if they do become professionals, the pay is dismal.
For most adult women who want to play, recreational and amateur leagues are the default. Here, it’s not a matter of how much they’ll be paid—it’s a matter of whether or not they can afford their own league dues. In the case of the Majestics, one of 40 teams across the United States in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), the starting fee is about $700.
Often confused with the Legends Football League (formerly known as the Lingerie Football League, though the women still play in glorified undergarments and ineffectual pads), the WFA is a nonprofit organization that sets itself apart by not playing a modified version of the male sport. WFA games are tackle, completely padded gridiron football.
The WFA has operated as the largest women’s tackle football league in the country since it was founded in 2007 by husband-and-wife team Jeff and Lisa King, of Exeter, California. Both of the Kings are former football players; Jeff played in college until he was sidelined with a knee injury, while Lisa played with the Los Angeles Amazons for two years. Passionate about the sport, they created the WFA to create a more cohesive league for women—because, while women’s tackle-football teams and leagues have existed for decades, funding has always been an issue. The WFA’s nonprofit status makes it much cheaper to establish franchises and allows for most of the money raised to be invested back in the teams.
While some WFA players have logged close to a decade or more playing women’s football, there’s a wide range of ages and experience levels on each team. Most of the women of the begin playing in the WFA in their late 20s, a full decade or more later than male professional football players, and find their local teams largely through word of mouth or Google. Like most of the problems facing the WFA, this late recruitment is due to its tight finances. The WFA doesn’t have the resources to court athletes at the high school or college level, and even if they did, they’d have little to promise them aside from long days and a love of the game.