Is There Life After Football?

Most players that have spent enough time on the gridiron have mentioned experiencing a phenomenon known as “the still” or “the pause”. There’s even a song that references this (Fountains of Wayne – All Kinds of Time) and certain players that appear to have some form of mental control of it, i.e. Peyton Manning. The still is described as a slowing of time, often accompanied by an ethereal silence, much like in a movie. But this cinematic experience happens on the field, and grants the individual a clarity and comfort before snapping back into reality.

I’m not making a case for time travel in football, but this unifying concept is often brought up post-game and accompanied by beer in the case of women’s football (played mostly by over 21 competitors). The other most-oft referenced conversation after that night’s game has been thoroughly picked apart?

What will you do after you stop playing football?

Humble beginnings to a new team

Humble beginnings to a new team

It’s always enough to silence an entire table of rowdy athletes. It’s hard to pry a woman away from this game. Far harder than it is for men. Most men realize they have a very viable post-high school football career path. If they are good enough, they will get a free education. If they do well in college, a multi-million dollar payday awaits them in the professional world. Yet there are relatively few men’s semi-pro teams. Those who don’t get onto the path of the elite seem to realize they are destined for something else. Women’s football is silently HUGE, spread all across the world–even Guam has a women’s pro league–sponsored by Bud Light! And since the game is largely denied them, and since money is NEVER part of it, women love this game in a way I think men never will. Men’s relationship with football in their adult lives is far too stained by money (for the pros), fantasy football prizes (for the vicarious) and the self-satisfying ability to criticize the TV (for…everyone).

I’ve had the opportunity to know many great women’s players that played well into their forties. History was made a few years ago when a woman North of sixty took the field. Though I don’t recommend my mother buy a set of pads, I simply know that women’s football is one of the tightest knit groups of women possibly in the world. After every game, both teams mix together, pray, and cheer for the sport, regardless of how many tussles, tackles, or thrown flags there were. It’s impossibly painful to think about how I’ve been without that camaraderie for over a year. I coach high school women’s lacrosse, and I’ve never seen even a glimmer of that kind of unity. It starts at the top…I’ve been hard-pressed to find coaches that are even somewhat convivial–many are exclusionary elitists that belong at the ‘popular’ table in a private school (and perhaps came from just there).

So many of us have scattered from the game we love. I know a running back that’s now a cross-fit athlete. There’s a powerhouse linebacker playing flag (and getting plenty of penalties). Even a defensive line standout playing in softball leagues. I’ve come back to the world of lacrosse, where my college athletic exploits called home. I’ve also joined a band and we’re starting to have some real success. But while we feign peace, I know the truth. Dear God do we miss football.

We always talked of change; lower sponsorship, better community involvement, better coaching. We went to sleep in 2012…and our dreams came true in 2013.

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The South Florida Swift has opened its doors, answering all the aforementioned prayers. But where are the players? Reluctantly hiding in their collective new sports. Will they return? Yes–because we all remember the feeling of standing still on that 120 yard field, mesmerized by that impossible silence. And that is much better than the stillness and silence of our regular lives.

There is life after football, but it’s a hell of a lot less entertaining.

Into the Black

For the last three weeks, I’ve been careening through the backstreets of Hollywood. Thanks to the fortune of UMiami’s film school faculty connections, roads normally closed to the public have had their barricades smashed for me to wander. I’ve met some of the most influential people in this town, something that without the help of my graduate film school would have been nearly impossible. Some have had harsh words, reminding that movie-business rookies need to pay their dues and be willing to work for nothing. Others have had sunnier viewpoints, stating we should make our own rules and forge new paths into the business. I’m green in this world, and green sticks out here–as if cast against a black background.

As the days wane before the WFA Women’s National Championship, our sport is too sporting the lush and leafy color. Slowly but surely, all are casting their eyes on Pittsburgh, specifically Heinz Field, and asking: does women’s football deserve to stand next to titans (or in this case, Steelers)?

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Montreal’s talented vets have returned to greatness.

Let’s review. The IWFL crowned their champion last weekend: the playoff mainstay Montreal Blitz. Montreal narrowly edged out the Sacremento Sirens with a last moment extra point block. The Tier II championship (now monickered the Founder’s Bowl) went to the once-meek Carolina Phoenix, who triumphed over the sturdy Portland Shockwave. I’d love to go into more detail, but my former USA teammate Leah Hinkle has already done the event justice in her IWFL-approved “All Champions Now“. There is nothing in my heart except love for the IWFL, once the home of the Punishers and the backers of Team USA. However, I must admit it seems they are stuck in the mud of Round Rock, Texas. Until they venture to a new venue, they may continue to appear as yesterday’s football league.

There were very little surprises in the WFA playoffs this season. In fact, it included the exact same final four as 2011. That being said, I’ve had no trouble marinating in the anticipation of this particular championship. As you all must know by know, I’ve been itching for the Chicago Force to burst into the show for a couple of years now–I’ve been a believer for quite some time. They snuck past the Boston Militia 35-34, dashing the hopes of a three-peat. I expected that, but I didn’t expect the San Diego Surge to lay down 56 points against the Dallas Diamonds’ 29. Talk about making a statement–the perennial champ of the early 00’s was many’s pick to win it all.

Chicago has finally forced their way into a championship game.

I’ll make my prediction swift; I don’t see the Force losing. San Diego has one HELL of a trip occuring right now. Their special teams problems (like last year’s punt-less championship game) also give me concern. But their bloodthirsty defense will keep this closer than Chicago is used to, which could turn the tide. Grisafe has been rattled by the pass rush in the past, but now, more confidant and protected than ever, even the rain-making Knengi Martin of the Surge isn’t enough to stop the Force’s offense.
The interesting truth is that this weekend is much less about the championship game than it ever has been before. Regardless of who holds the trophy Saturday night, history is being made by all of us. Even the small market teams clinging to life? Yes, you!

The Surge defense could create a stunner in Pittsburgh.

Despite the continuance of the IWFL and the growth of the WSFL, the WFA is proudly claiming the title of the largest, strongest, and most influential league in the game, and even the greenest of players are feeling empowered. Though we all need to shake the hand of the Pittsburgh Passion’s front office this weekend, we can also know that every player paying league fees is part of this extraordinary step in the right direction. Five years ago, even I would have laughed at our sport playing in an NFL venue, or being broadcast  live on ESPN3 (for all the world’s watching).

We are standing on the verge of visibility, mere inches from ledge of legitimization. Every player, coach, fan, and friend in this sport should be encouraged to used this weekend as the jumping off point of their own creative or promotional project. Always wanted to write a book about women in football? Write it! Been considering designing a website to share our experiences? Make it happen! I, for one, have two concepts to pitch in the coming months–freshly foddered by the wake of our sport’s historic weekend. And my newfound connections in LA could help me say it into the right ears.

Though I’m still daunted by the shadows of the big studios, and shaken by the swank of the vaulted agencies, I truly feel as though I’m among fellows; I belong in this business. Similarly, women’s football belongs at Heinz field, and in the eye of sportscasters, barflies, and score-scourers everywhere. Perhaps the finest piece of advice I’ve received in this town has come from an executive at Mandalay Entertainment this morning. He stated that if you believe in something, stand behind it, “even in the darkest hours”. He then made the blackest black seem crystal clear…we must stay true to our vision. “It’s either that, or it’s [working at] McDonald’s”. I love me a Big Mac, but I’ve never looked good in red.

Hell Hath No Fury

Charles Dickens put it best: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

A Tale of Two Cities wasn’t talking about the 2012 Palm Beach Punishers football season, but it certainly does apply. While this year Palm Beach reached several milestones, like being undefeated at home and finally conquering the arch-rival Miami Fury (albeit a bruised and broken shell of its former self), the one line that most applies to us is that of “all going direct the other way”–hell.

Despite the faltering ranks and cascading crises, Palm Beach managed three home victories before closing its doors, possibly for good.

The Endzone Airwaves have fallen silent for quite some time. The plagued Punishers year shoulders most of the blame–I’ve been disenchanted and uninspired by the stunting of my own football career at the hands of a crumbled season. But some of the reasons for my inattention to covering the sport I love so dearly are good. After leaving my career in the golf business (I use that term loosely, as I merely worked around the clubhouse and neighborhood) to concrete my work as a screenwriter, my first screenplay has been sold to a production company and will soon be a feature film in a theater near you (I also use “soon” loosely). As the deadlines near, my fingers are well occupied with draft over draft of the script.

Though I beam about the future of my film career, I fret over the future of my football career. I’m confidant enough in my abilities to say there are many other places I would be welcome. However, the pleasure of playing close to home is one I’m troubled to give up. Not to mention the extreme connection to and affinity of Palm Beach–all six years of my women’s career have taken place here.

Yes, yes I hear you. “What about the Punishers?” I could go on and on about the lack of fundraising, sponsors, off-season practices, camps, the coaches walking out of practice even though 14 girls were there and ready to play, the clamoring for forfeits by CAPTAINS, the founding member and former owner that quit out of nowhere, the three All-American caliber defensive talents that were kicked off the team because of OFF-FIELD conflicts with staff (not coaches), and the eventual folding of the entire program for the duration of the year, but that would be exhausting! Even that rambling sentence was an excessive amount of time to spend rehashing the utterly depressing series of events that lead to this point.

Even before the forfeits, it was evident that the family was splintering. Parties used to be the one place everyone would show, but not this season.

But as Dickens’ quote displayed, there were good moments. Glimmers of hope that our season and franchise wasn’t on the way to being reduced to rubble. Offensive records were set, burned bridges re-built in times of need (former teammates returning to help triumph when others had fallen with injury). And as I said, we did manage to conquer Tallahassee, Central Florida, and Miami with a specter of our previous talent, much lighter in the saddle than we’d been since our first season.

Still, in the end, we’re all sifting through ashes of a program we once thought bound for greatness. The core of the team, from captainship to coaching, became unwilling to continue the mission, and both riddled with and terrified of injury. In a sport as brutal as this, the moment you think you could get hurt…you will.

So rather than place blame, marinate in my bitterness, or curse the football gods (or off-field distractions) that put us here, I’d like to birth this thought: the Punishers have all but crumbled, but in a way that shut the door on many unanswered quests. If there was to be an end to this franchise, let it be on the note of that undefeated home season. Let it be on the defeat of the Fury. Though it is the winter of our despair, let us recall the 2012 season for the spring of hope. Hope that from these ashes can raise a NEW program, a NEW mission, a NEW franchise.

There is a point where even I must walk away from a broken, battered dream.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but far worse are a great many women scorned. And attempting to revisit the failures and mis-handling of the Punishers may be just enough of a sin against the talented players in this area to break them for good. No, let us learn from our mistakes and go direct to heaven.

It’s good to be back, and it’s time to move on.

Chariots of Fire (and Mire)

Within the cavernous coliseum of the 2012 women’s football season, dozens of chariots prepare for a jeopardous race. In an event both brutal and swift, the drivers behind the reigns of their respective teams are hoping their horses can survive the contest and its trials. Everywhere, practice jerseys make way for brilliantly hued gameday threads, and un-fallowed game pants are pulled over girdles. The war paint is on and the mission is clear – be the last one standing on the track come July.But in the crowd, chalices are raised and bets are placed. Still, as the wine flows so does the rumor mill of the coliseum’s future. As a historian of these great chariot races, allow me to present my own bets, and dispel some of the pre-commencement discussions.

RUMOR 1: League Merger: False, but very much in the works.

 In the foreground of this topic is the flamboyant businessman Mr. Vasker, who was previously behind the supposed 2011 merger movement with the backing of his company, Artfest International. Along with his partners, Vasker has proved to be one of the most mysterious and controversial people in professional sports. His big push is the “UWFL”, which promises to unite women’s football under one roof and secure coveted air time contracts for select match-ups. It sounds good on paper, but Vasker’s original plan had teams footing the bill–hundreds of thousands of dollars large. The deal is currently being re-worked, and Vasker is reportedly still peddling for sponsors and contracts. He’s either the savior of women’s football, or its prodigal son.

Behind the scenes, big names within the leagues are still hard at work looking for a way to bring the three heads together. League contracts and player protection plans are all being drafted. I can’t tell you who, or what, or when (and least of all WHY), but there will be some major complaints from small market teams that are used to the old rules of women’s football. I’d feel sorry for them if they weren’t the same teams that forfeit and fold with the frequency of Tebow’s name being uttered on Sportcenter. I want everyone to be able to play the game, but the Northern Alabama Boll Weevils will not likely put our sport on that same show.

RUMOR 2: NFL affiliation: False.

Wish I had better news for you, but an attempted deal with the big boys was cut short because of–you guessed it–a lack of unity. Apparently the contact delivered the news by saying it would be too difficult to sponsor our seperate branches. I’m guessing that means they weren’t even inclined to choose one over the others.

RUMOR 3: IWFL scraps Tier system: False.

The discussion over drying up the tiers was again derailed. Teams will still compete regionally and across tiers, but the playoffs will have the same format, and two IWFL champions will be crowned.

Now that the mythic underlay of 2012’s offseason is in the dust (other rumors are too silly or controversial to comment on), it’s time to focus on thundering, helmeted hordes: the championship hopefuls.

In the WFA, it’s difficult to bet against the champs. Boston returns a roster with very minimal changes and a few solid additions. However, my heart is in Chicago. Yes, I believe the heavily hyped under-achievers of 2011 are due for an appearance in the show. And I think they may face a repeat American Conference opponent—San Diego. San Diego has made several key additions, including IWFL & Team USA standout Knengi Martin at DE. If the Surge abandons their reckless anti-special teams mantra, they could be the ones hoisting the trophy. Expect Dallas to make a charge (as their smart ownership and PR work keeps them hot every season), even though their defense has lost some of its youthful spark. New York should make a heartened effort to succeed in the post-season, but their ultra tough divisional area makes their progression unlikely. Jacksonville, or the ‘Littlest Big Guy’ as they are considered, could actually surprise some people if they can make it past Miami with more momentum than last year. As per always, the playoffs should see some less-than stellar attendees due to those weak divisions in the South, Northern Mid-West and Northwest.

From the back of the darkhorse pack, I’m picking the heavily rebooted Columbus Comets, which features some of the best coaches in the nation, and could absolutely slay a few Goliaths and get deep in the playoffs. If they have managed to improve their offense, the heavy-handed Western Michigan Mayhem could knock some contenders from the fray. The upstart West Coast Lightning, an evolution of the dissolved So Cal Scorpions and other fragmented Southern Cal teams, could be a startling shocker (pun intended) in the West if they can up-end the Surge and Bay Area.

The power-packed Chicago Force have my vote.

Sadly, not everyone appears to be moving in the right direction. As is often the case in women’s football, the wheels appear to be coming off for many. Florida seems to suffer from TMTS (too many teams syndrome). Though we don’t appear to have the population for 7 teams, we also can’t justify the lengthy trips up 95 and 75 to conjoin anyone. Many call for the union of nearby teams like Jax and Orlando, as well as my own Palm Beach with our bitter rival Miami. Oddly enough, the biggest stability problems are in places like Tampa (who have JUST changed their name to the Inferno) and the Gulf Coast Riptide. More likely Southern folds are the Carolina Raging Wolves and the Atlanta Phoenix, the latter of which will undoubtedly live in the shadow of the IWFL’s champ Ravens until they take the bait and jump on the wagon. Up North, the Southern Tier Spitfire has rekindled their franchise, but may give up the fight soon—they are without a website and schedule at this time. The San Diego Sting clings to life out West at the feet of Cali titans. Upstart Tacoma Trauma is in for a tough year…with two 17-hour road trips to Utah and a small budget; they should probably be in the IWFL, with teams like Portland and Seattle to showcase against. Their roster is also unusually small, but I respect them for having the guts to make it happen and play the game they love in the league they believe in.

I certainly can’t seem to think about the successes of the season without a few picks from my heart. The Arkansas Wildcats might be the best bunch of people I’ve ever met—hard workering players, fundraising phenoms, and coaches that would do just about anything for their team. Under new ownership and sporting a sprightly name and logo makeover, they have all the makings of a darling Hollywood-caliber underdog. With a big-armed quarterback and some speed injections, the Wildcats could be the team of the future. I’m also a big fan of the Indy Crash. Indy, whose super-confident veterans led well into the playoffs last year, deserve a repeat appearance in the final rounds. Their roster treats football like life, not a hobby, and I’m ever-impressed with their well-coached group of athletes. Of course, seeing Cinderellas in the show is like expecting lollipops to rain from the sky and rainbow-haired ponies to sing showtunes. But hey, a girl can dream.

The fun-loving Wildcats could turn some heads this year.

Keep an eye on the newborn Utah Jynx and Derby City Dynamite. Both teams have some nice sponsors behind them and some pretty keen-minded owners. They also value the much-ignored importance of the pre-season scrimmage (ever heard of that, people?) and a hefty amount of intense pre-season practice. Both also have some fresh graphics and technology at work; many mock my confidence is cemented by a team’s website, design, and social media efforts, but  where there is a professional appearance there is money and business sense.

In the IWFL (which has already penned 4 games in week 1) I ostensibly expect the Atlanta Ravens to repeat. Mashonda Gilmore might be the smartest owner and businessperson in the entirety of women’s football, and she has put together another offensive nightmare for her opposition. The Ravens defense will also be as tough as ever, and her 60-woman roster should stand the test of the year. Montreal will likely make a strong run for the title (narrow victors in Week 1 over the sturdy Intensity), as will the always-impressive Carolina Phoenix, who showed some serious beef by shelling out to travel to Philly for their season-opener AND SHUTTING THEM OUT. The California Quake has lost some bite to local WFA teams, but should still do well. Portland has rebooted their defense, but still has major gaps (including special teams) to iron out, and Seattle (34-12 over Modesto) will also be strong Western Competitors.

My darkhorses in the IWFL are the Connecticut Wreckers and the Northeastern Nitro. If you’ve forgotten the story behind the Conn Wreckers, let me refresh your memory: when the Northeastern Nitro left the WFA, they moved to New York. In their wake, the Wreckers set up shop for the Conn girls unwilling or unable to locate. Both of these Northeastern teams should be strong enough to make a show in the playoffs.

The IWFL will likely see some folds this year. The Carolina Queens always seem to pull off a decent season, but the seemingly super-powered ownership & coaching of the Phoenix will likely make a move to absorb them if the merger talks move forward or the Queens struggle with sponsors. Arkansas Banshees are a mix of rookies and WFA Wildcat dropouts. They will have a hard time getting a foothold in the IWFL, and will be traveling to some tough Texan teams. Fortunately, most of the forfeit-fond strugglers of ’11 have gone the way of the buffalo, strengthening the IWFL, but I’d like to take a moment to mourn our fallen franchises, two of which are dear to my heart. The dearly departed Monterrey Black Mambas: the only Mexican team in all of North American pro women’s football. Perhaps it’s my appreciation for my own Mexican heritage, or my support of the IWFL’s international football mission, but I bow my head for you. The Mambas will be playing two games this year against the Houston Energy, so I can at least cross my fingers for an improbable and unconscionable upset. The Chattanooga Locomotion: a long-standing and much beloved Tennessee troop, battling constantly against an abandoned Southern region. A dear friend from Team USA helped introduce me to their dedicated and innovative ownership and team, as well as their grassroots football mission. They will be playing one game against the Banshees. I certainly hope these young ladies can pull it together and return in 2013, as the IWFL plans.

A fresh face in the IWFL is the Arlington Impact. With a big market and big aspirations (as well as some former Diamonds & Mustangs in their ranks) they could do some damage.

Discipline & training are never scarce in Atlanta.

Say what you will about the IWFL—the “baby in the corner”, the stalwart merger-fighters, the continuants of the much-defamed Tier system—they continue to provide a professional image and are constantly working on new product partnerships and PR opportunities. Their front office certainly boasts some enviable business minds, which any Mega-League brain-stormer should seek to include.

Expect to see some highly unusual things this year: shortened seasons for some small-market teams, wacky playoff formats for both the WFA & IWFL, and out of league play for both leagues within the enigmatic WSFL, which I will be discussing next week. But as the chariots begin a-racing and the rumors continue to swirl among the crowd, one truth remains unquestionable—there will be harrowing hits, vexatious controversies, narrow wins and unsung heroes amidst every league, every team, and every showdown.

Chalices up…I’ll drink to that.

The Roadmap to Relevance

It’s said that life is a journey, one where the destination is secondary to the process of seeking it. Though the metaphor may seem intangible, but the message is simple: pay attention to the people and experiences that lead you to your goals. For the franchises in women’s football, the destination is the same: the place where the roads of financial stability, national relevance, and consistent competition meet. And it most certainly is about the destination.

However, there are many other roads that women’s football programs take by mistake, confused by the poorly labeled map of success in a business where the blind often lead the blind. Those experienced between the down markers are rarely so well-traveled in the boardroom. So as a vagabond of those various roads, allow my traveling expertise to help explain some of the towns your franchise might be heading towards, or, much worse, stranded in.

Foldtown

The dream appears to have died. Either you’re running on fumes or signing the death certificate of your prized program. You might have no owners, no coaches, or worst of all, no players. Be it the result of inner conflict or lack of funding, not every fold is permanent.

To escape, head to the nearest team, and if possible, let them tow you. If there’s no one for miles, get your car safely on the side of the road for 2012 and start the sponsorship hunt early. Consider a new coat of paint (website, name, colors, or logo) and a new GPS (team owner or board).

Poverty City

Get out of here quick! Foldtown is your next destination. Host a car wash at a busy Wal-Mart in town (always free with them), then proceed to launch a ‘Save the Team’ initiative on your website. Refer to my prior blog, “Resolutions and Solutions”, for sponsorship techniques and ideas.

Directions out? Turn the map upside down. Chances are if you wound up here, you’ve been reading it wrong the whole time. Football is a business–one must separate personal relationships from professional team and finance management. Running your team like a keg party doesn’t work: driving drunk is never a good idea!

Keep former players--they can be awfully helpful when changing a flat.

Brokenheartsville

Your team account isn’t in the red, but your program is on the ropes. Maybe you’ve lost a passenger, or even the driver. Your practices are lethargic, your staff is frustrated. Your players may be losing faith, skipping practices or even quitting.

This town is tough to break out of. There’s no shortage of bars and street corners where one can hang their head. Start up the engine and move forward; there’s no sponsor, coach, or player you can’t move on from, and no loss that can break the spirit of a dedicated traveler. Consider picking up a hitch-hiker (AKA bringing in an inspiring person from your community) to fire up the team. The words of a cancer survivor, self-made local business person, or a spiritual leader can be moving enough to rouse your ranks from their lassitude.

Stagnant Beach

Despite the calming view, this is a town with little growth or change. It’s a nice place for a quiet weekend, and there are worse places to be, but it’s not somewhere you should settle down. Home of the 4-4 season, this prosaic retirement community is not likely to attract a lot of visitors or businesses. It’s not going anywhere, but it’s also not going anywhere.

Take a U-turn! Start recruiting in different places, and consider adding a new slogan or some fun graphics to your site. Look for an energetic player to promote to captainship, or bring aboard a new coach with some pizzazz. If your team is starting to shop for walkers and dentures, consider looking for some younger talent by forging a relationship with local high schools or colleges. A couple well-placed flyers in the senior hallways or a college rec hall could pay-off with some new blood.

Port Prosperity

This town is booming! You’ve figured out the proper blend of promotions and fundraising, and you’ve reached an exciting stop in your team’s sojourn. Head to the casinos and enjoy your team’s wealth! But money doesn’t always spell competitive capabilities. The strip is an alluring location, but the competitive ability of your team might still be suspect.

If you’ve made it here, stay the course. Keep training your players and recruiting. If you’re stuck here for more than a season or two, consider changing your offense, defense, or both. If you really can’t get the wheels out of the lush soil of Prosperity,  start looking for a new coach, because it’s not your business plan to blame for the delay!

Palm Beach is on a treacherous path, but there's still time to get back on the road to stability.

Ciudad de Toros

The “City of Bulls” is a well-hidden treasure. Though not far from Prosperity’s golden beaches, the lofty mountain landscape of true, continued team success can be a tricky course to plot. You frequent the playoffs and perennially maintain winning seasons. Everyone on board should be congratulated, and sated with their travels thus far.

Why anyone would want to leave this lovely view is beyond me, unless of course, you’re headed for the most exclusive, impressive, and expensive destination on the entire map…

Titletown

Your trip has come to fruition! Grasping the WFA championship, you’ve joined an elite group of residents in the most beautiful and exciting city around! I’m not talking about Green Bay, Wisconsin, this is women’s football at its best. You’ve likely never seen a place like Titletown: lush landscape, booming business, and most importantly: happy residents. It’s a hard place to stay, but the WFA’s $25,000 championship bonus might help you pay the rent!

Regardless of your place on the map, remember, there’s a gas station somewhere, and no journey is ever truly over. As the 2012 season races towards us, we’re all ready to begin our respective trips toward destiny. Stay tuned, the Season Preview is coming up!

Resolutions and Solutions

January. New year, new beginnings, new goals. Most of those goals will shed their urgency quickly, abandoned and jilted like shoes along the interstate. One goal many will be endeavoring upon in 2012 will be the oft-trodden road to better health and ideal weight. So what should women’s football teams resolutions be this preseason? I suggest just those.

Part of being a healthy team is being a financially sound one. In my conversations and observation of women’s football, I notice a good deal of people who complain about their team’s finances (or their own) and very few who act in response to those mired accounts. It’s really a simple plan–the first step towards being healthy involves following a steady diet, and in our case, that means regular and varied fundraisers, and individual sponsorship solicitation.

Fundraising is like cardio: if you don’t do it, your heart and lungs won’t be at their best. The most vital of processes a team can perform is fundraising. And like cardio, the more the better. Running one time won’t intercede for one’s health or weight. It has to be a regular activity. During the season, fundraising will be hard to fit in, so restrict such to pre and post-game style events like autograph signings (with merchandise for sale), bar appearances, and the like. Two fundraisers a month during the preseason is bare minimum to operation. The off-season should be far more hefty an event schedule. Try mixing up your workouts, with endurance and sprint work–longer-running fundraising like selling a product and selling raffle tickets should be used in concert with events like celebrity bartending, date auctions, golf tournaments, or car washes.

Sponsorship-seeking might be the most underachieved action in all of women’s sports. I can already hear your spines prickling up. “Are you saying I’m not trying?” Yes I am. If you, as an individual player, haven’t donned your nicest, most business-like attire, and personally set foot in four different businesses this season (full color sponsorship packet in hand), you haven’t tried. Even in this economy, advertising and a unique affiliation is a tempting offer for businesses, especially small businesses in earshot of your home stadium. Look for companies that are busy, and companies offering coupons. Coupon advertising is quite expensive, and the companies that utilize it are often interested in bringing in a high volume and are aware of the cost/discount relationship. They will be most open-minded about website advertising and game-day announcements (think: spend money to make money, the foundation of advertising). Furthermore, having an autographed picture of a women’s football player in their store will generate a lot of interest. “Wow, did you sponsor this team/player?” “Why yes, I helped that woman change history.” Maybe an exaggeration of what that owner will say, but the point is, it’s a conversation starter, and conversation is a client bond-building tactic like no other.

Line up your best reps for high-dollar sponsors.

“What else can I do?” Good, I see you’ve sheathed your defensive weaponry. Smile, shake their hand, speak the King’s English. Slang is not the way to an entrepreneur’s checkbook. Avoid any type of swearing, even in a joke. Remember: when seeking sponsors, it’s not your job to promote any particular cause or group aside from your team and the league (if you don’t play for the Yankees don’t wear your hat at the business). Maintain eye contact, and show gratitude even if you don’t get the sponsorship. If you’re prepared with a business card, no matter how simple that card is, you could get a call or email back in a few days with a renewed interest. This happens often, as businesses unfamiliar with women’s football do a little research about the sport and league and suddenly feel better about investing in our future. Regarding that card, a stack of 300 can cost you as little as $5 on a website. Include the team’s name and website, the league’s name and website, and of course, your contact information. Adding your position and a picture is always a nice touch. At the end of the day, you have to take ownership of the financial well-being of your team. There’s no reason a player can’t offer something in addition to the teams’ standard sponsor reward packages. Just make sure you can effectuate those promises. I like to add on an autographed copy of a picture of me, or ad space on my blog. Even if it ends up costing you a few dollars, hundreds in sponsorship capital and the appreciation of your team makes it well worth it.

That’s a lot of work for the individual players…what should team owners and boards be doing to assist in our diet and fitness goals? How about offering some healthy options on your menu? Make sure your sponsorship packages are diverse. If the only difference between a $500 sponsor and a $1000 sponsor is a t-shirt, you probably won’t make the sale. Think about incentives for higher dollar sponsors by using what you have control over: your social media and gameday. Product costs money, but Facebook posts, tweets, and gameday activites can be shifted to feature their business with little to no cost at all. Often them a larger or more frequently appearing web ad, or tweet in higher volume for bigger sponsors. Offer a halftime or pregame event featuring their product or owners (think of a funny game or a throwing contest their staff could participate in). Gameday is all about entertaining your audience, so why not entertain your sponsors at the same time? Custom jerseys, season tickets, logoed t-shirts and plaques should be reserved for your highest dollar sponsors, as their cost can jump quickly.

Another way owners can aid their players is by setting up or accompanying sponsor meetings. Two well-dressed team representatives is always better than one. This is a task suited best for teams with boards and larger front offices, as it can be arduous to make calls and do research on your players’ behalf.

Fundraising should be both frequent and diverse to increase player and fan attendance, like our Halloween Bowling Event this year.

We’re eating better, but we still need to do something to get into peak shape, so what’s next? How about some strength training? Revamp your team’s website. If you’re carrying a 20-person plus roster (and my God I hope you are), you probably have someone competent in web design on your team. Offer them a reduced sponsorship to do a little site maintenance. Showing a professional and aesthetic website to a sponsor greatly increases your chances of landing their business. I just spent the better part of three months creating a flash website (and an accompanying Apple-friendly mobile site) with custom graphics and user-friendly layouts. You don’t have to go that far, but make sure it’s easy to read and has some fun features for fans and sponsors to utilize. Consider featuring individual player bios each week to generate a personal connection for those viewers (think: putting a face to a name). If you market to the fans, you are also marketing to businesses, because they’re also potential fans! Please don’t forget to spell check, and get the opinions of several players to make sure you haven’t crossed into the lines of cheesy or strange (“Girl Power” went out of style with the Spice Girls). Promote the product over the particulars: professional tackle football during the NFL/NCAA drought…which just so happens to be played by women. Lastly, if you don’t have a Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, set it up now. It doesn’t matter where you’re located or how long you’ve been around, social media reaches more people than any other form of promotion.

Now we’re really getting into shape, and we’re the envy of the neighborhood. Maybe that resolution was too easy! If you want to be the fittest team in the conference, opt for non-profit status. Being a 501(c) non-profit is easier than you think, and can have huge benefits. As an owner, you have to be prepared to walk away from the Kraft mentality that your women’s team can be a Fortune 500 company. We’re not there yet as a sport. For now, making sure we’re covering our costs and improving our product is paramount. Non-profit paperwork can be filed by any legal representative, and will allow people to donate to your team as a tax write-off. If you live in the city or a wealthy suburb, you will appeal to high-dollar private individuals easily. After many years in Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest zip codes on earth, and several years working with the ultra-wealthy at an elite private country club, I can say first hand that the affluent in our midst are always looking for a new cause. I don’t much worry about their reasons, the item of importance is that they are always reaching in their pockets for charity and interest groups. We are both: women supporting women, athletes supporting athletes. Consider launching your new non-profit status at a local charity event or the opening of a hospital, etc. This will expose your cause as well as show your interest in your community.

It will be tiring, it will be difficult. But once you’re healthy and fit, everything works and feels better. A healthy body will make you more confidant, more able, and more popular. No one ever said your efforts will produce the Situation’s abs (or a championship for that matter), but you’ll definitely get the attention you deserve, and live a hell of a lot longer.

The Wins and Losses

The Palm Beach Punishers football program has been suffering the past few weeks. Not with the pang of an on-field defeat or the throbbing of an injury. We’ve been afflicted, but in a much more profound and permanent way. We’ve had to say goodbye to a dear friend, veteran lineman and special teams star Patty Lahman.

I won’t be discussing the circumstances of her untimely departure from this world. It is a mere footnote in comparison to the acts of kindness, bravery, and love she endeavored upon in her life. And I cannot venture to discuss her life before I met her on the gridiron. What I can do is show you the teammate she was and the impact she had on Palm Beach’s franchise–the players, coaches, fans, sponsors, and myself.

#41 in her favorite attire

Patty was one of those rare motivators: captain material. When we trained she always went hard. In the weightroom, she pushed me to do workouts I’d scarce attempted for their difficulty and intensity, even in High School football and college lacrosse training. When we were sprinting, doing crossfit, or hitting the tackling dummies, she made everyone else look paltry. Which is perfect: in fear of appearing obsolete or ineffectual, Patty made each one of us work harder.

She’d take on any position asked of her, and never complained about playing time; she was an absolute endangered species in a world of blame and self-entitlement. Unlucky with injuries, Patty would always approach physical therapy like she approached practices: an opportunity to improve physically. She always came back stronger than before, and always put a hurt on me when tackling practice came around (excuses like “I need to kick field goals” didn’t hold up against her).

Working hard(er)

My favorite memory of Patty isn’t the beers we shared, the laughs we had, or the deep conversations about where to take our program or handle internal disputes. It was the middle of an especially intense practice, and I was frustrated over a mistake and threw my helmet to the ground. As a young player, I was embattled: haunted by near-misses and disastrous team experiences in my past, I could never be perfect enough to meet my own expectations. I was also hunched with the weight of perceived lack of respect from my team. I wanted to be the best, and be approached as such. Patty called me out; though the exact words are now lost in the sands of time, the jist of it was “stop complaining, work harder, never worry what they think–just show them what they ought to”.

I can’t lie, it was put in much harsher terms. But at that point in my career, getting through to me was harder than getting James Harrison to hug Roger Goodell. Patty was one of the sweetest, most affable people I’ve ever met. But she was mercilessly dedicated to seeing her team and herself succeed.

I know that moving to Arizona was impossibly hard for her–we often heard from our estranged teammate at key points last year: before games, during a tough patch of team conflict, or after a hard-earned string of victories in the face of massive internal and external criticism. Patty was thrilled to return to Florida, and the team was elated to have her back. Her positive energy electrified our off-season, and even rookies connected with her in their brief encounters.

Patty is survived by her husband and four wonderful kids (the three youngest pictured above), all part of the Punisher family.

Always ready to help others and an understanding ear to their troubles, Patty is just another example that only the good die young. Her power will illuminate our locker room forever, and her kindness and strength will bolster our hearts even longer.

One team, one dream, one family. Rest in peace, Patty Lahman #41: wife, mother, sister, teammate, inspiration.