By Amy Smith, M.Ed, CHC

As March is upon us, we pause to name and celebrate the overlooked contributions of women in history. We tell our stories so that we can also ensure that girls have the opportunities to create their own history. I tell my stories so that girls and women in sports know they have an advocate and a raucous fan. In my opinion, there can’t be too many of those.

I feel deep gratitude for the paths that women have forged and to be honest, am still struck and surprised at the progress. I get choked up every time I watch a women’s sporting event and see my reflection there; to see the progress, to feel the accomplishment, to embody the essence of what it is to flow in one’s body.

My athletic career began when I was 8, where I was able to join the local Little League a full year ahead of the regulatory 9-12 age bracket. I loved baseball (and football, but there wasn’t even a hint of an opportunity). I didn’t realize at the time that baseball would only be in my life for those five summers.

I didn’t understand why I had to end my baseball career because of some damn construct that was created for some ridiculous reason. I was better than most of the boys. I was a catcher, and a damn good one. No one could knock the ball out of my glove (and no one ever did, not then and not in high school softball) and my arm was a rocket. I also pitched, played third base, and left field when needed. My hand-eye coordination was off the charts. What did gender have to do with this? Why didn’t anyone else seem to see this as an injustice? Why didn’t anyone care?

My shock at not being able to play on because of my gender just didn’t register. I was bewildered, angry, and alone. I didn’t have anyone to help me make sense of this. If I were a boy, the opportunities would have been endless. I would have been celebrated for my talent and elevated to the god-like position of the athletic men in my family. But I was “just” a girl.

This is not okay.

This theme of “not good enough, no because you’re a girl, and you can’t” continued. The double standards and blatant misogyny were, and still are, appalling.

I ended up playing softball in high school and had one write-up say “no one short of Johnny Bench can block the plate better than Smith.” So, I did well. But still. Softball wasn’t my sport, baseball was.

And the indignations continued…

I played basketball, tore my ACL, was told that girls shouldn’t get it repaired because the scar was too unsightly, and boys wouldn’t like it. Research later came out that showed that by not repairing ACL’s early resulted in a greater risk of total knee replacement. I received my total knee replacement at age 43.

This is not okay.

Research also later showed that girls need to train differently, especially as their bodies start to develop. If not, the likelihood of ACL tears and other injuries significantly increase. I had many injuries and was blamed for all of them.

This is not okay.

I tore up my ankle by running into a hole playing an away game in softball. I was blamed for being too clumsy (not a word that would ever “normally” be used to describe me). No one questioned why there was a hole in the field because it was the softball field. The baseball field was flawless.

This is not okay.

My dad and brother also injured themselves various times playing sports. For some reason, that was manly and a badge of honor. They weren’t blamed. They were just being athletes.

This is not okay.

The more I was told no and you can’t, the deeper my drive to prove everyone wrong. I eventually played rugby in college, drove a motorcycle, and enjoyed hitting people immensely. I was a tight head prop, and an effective one at that.

The Women’s Professional Football League came into fruition in my late twenties while working in New England. I tried out and made the team with ease. I played the entire game, every game. I was primarily a left tackle, but also played special teams and filled in as D-back when needed. I got paid to kick ass.

That was an amazing opportunity but a shit-show in reality. The all-male coaching staff was more intent on sleeping through the roster than actually teaching anything. The head coach would regale us with his stories of sexual conquests and awkward moments. The ownership was all ego and didn’t truly care about their players. The one coach I had any semblance of respect for tried to cajole me into kissing him. Seriously?

This is not okay.

Despite all of this, we did fairly well. This was entirely attributed to the raw athleticism and will of our team. The chance to play football, something that most of us had always dreamed of doing, was our drive. I only played one season and the team folded. Mismanagement was an understatement.

I later played rugby in Abu Dhabi, and in the Dubai 7’s rugby tournament. I was the only American on the team and brought some of my American football plays to the pitch. The team was coached by a woman and was simply, a wonderful experience. After my football experience, this was quite refreshing.

Things haven’t progressed much in the environment from which I grew up. A couple of years ago my dad was interviewed by his friend who happens to be a former teacher, football coach, and underaged-predator (“it was a different time back then”). The article was a platform to relive the glory days of my dad and deceased brother’s football career and potential, shining a light on what greatness we had in our midst. They talked about football in the family and all the winning, accomplishments, and talent. The one who got paid to play football wasn’t mentioned.

This is not okay.

I saw an article awhile back stating that a flag football player signed a multi-million dollar contract to play football. I shared the article, jokingly mentioning that I was twenty years too early. My sister replied, “you just helped pave the way.” Indeed.

I’ve had male beacons of light along the way, too. My future brother-in-law talking the Little League commissioner into letting me play at eight; my oldest nephew who played football in college having me invited to speak to his team; the young man who wrote his “hometown hero” project on me. Those things matter.

This is more than okay.

Today I work with, and honor my shattered body, exploring its continued potential through a variety of activities (that no longer include contact sports :). Working through my experiences has been a healing journey, surrounded by my biggest fans, that allow me to shift from that energy of “no" and "can’t” to the potential and opportunities of “yes” for everyone: those who identify as female, male or anything else along that beautiful spectrum of self.

As I work through my stories and the emotion surrounding them, I feel empowered to further opportunities for girls and women to do whatever the fuck they want. It’s okay to feel anger; it’s an appropriate response despite what our constructs of society, family, and culture dictate.

If you are reading this and feel scared, disempowered, or whatever it is that you feel from the past or present, know this: you are perfect and courageous and amazing. Your emotions are valid and can help fuel you to become your highest self. If you can’t voice things yet, that’s okay! This story has been decades in the making. Know that there is a tribe who will see you and love you exactly as you are. You will soon realize that you are an orchid in a field of daisies. There’s nothing wrong with the daisies, but you know you are different. You will soon realize, “holy shit, I’m an orchid!”

The more we lift our voices and collaborate to shift our consciousness, provide equality, and dismantle destructive constructs, the sooner we will be writing different stories.

I encourage everyone to speak their truth, set it free, and channel it all into healing ourselves and others, empowering and collaborating for equality, and shining our light to dissipate the darkness.

Amy L. Smith, M.Ed, CHC
[email protected]


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