Growing up in Zephyrhills, Florida, Toady loves nothing more than playing football. It isn’t surprising, given that football is a religion in the small Southern town. Indeed, a winning team is a cure-all throughout the South. But for Toady, the love of football is bittersweet – because Toady’s given name is Christine. She’s a girl, and girls “can’t” play football. Christine’s story, and how she beats the odds to become the owner of – and player on – a championship women’s tackle football team, is told in Andra Douglas’s new novel, BLACK & BLUE: Love, Sports, and the Art of Empowerment (BookBaby, July 2019).
Loosely based on the author’s own story, BLACK & BLUE chronicles Christine’s struggle to “get a slice” of the “pigskin pie” of life. The youngest of three sisters, she chafes against what the South tells her she should be. From childhood on, she loves football and plays exceptionally well. But she is denied a spot on the high school team, and by senior year, she watches unhappily as her male classmates win college football scholarships – knowing that for her it cannot be. Reluctantly, she puts aside her football dreams and moves to New York City, never expecting to play the game she loves – but life is full of surprises.
Douglas, the former owner of the New York Sharks Women’s Pro Football team and a player herself, paints a compelling picture of Christine’s struggle. But more importantly, BLACK & BLUE lays bare the complexity of being a woman who wants to play what has essentially been a man’s sport since it was first created. Once in New York, Christine hears rumors about women playing flag football on Fire Island. She rides the ferry over, clutching her ball – and there she finds her people. The women who will one day be her teammates on the New York Sharks.
This quirky, tough, and diverse group is held together by their love of the game. When, after several years of successful flag competitions, the Women’s Professional Football Association is launched, Christine becomes part of this new tackle league – against her better judgment, because she senses that something isn’t quite right. Before long, she discovers the truth – the Association has no funding and the team needs money and an owner if they want to compete. To keep her dream alive, Christine haggles and scrapes together the cash to buy the franchise.
And that’s when the tension really heats up. In order to create a championship team, Christine must make countless personal and financial sacrifices. Finding a coach who isn’t abusive is a struggle. Rallying team spirit is an endless quest. Add to that the loss of her one true love, the devastation of the September 11 attacks, and the sudden death of one of her players, and Christine’s dream seems doomed. Does she have the guts and the stamina to spite the odds? Will her sacrifices pay off?
BLACK & BLUE not only challenges gender stereotypes, but takes readers behind the scenes of one of America’s least understood sports. Readers will cheer Christine as she doubles down to fight for the women who want nothing more than to be allowed to play the sport they love. This is a story of empowerment that will inspire anyone who is struggling to fulfill their dreams.
Thanks to Jane Wesman PR for this review copy!
BLACK & BLUE is truly like “A League of Their Own” but with football. There are personal struggles, foul-mouthed players, and a sometimes-dysfunctional team.
The author grew up in Florida in the pre-Title IX days, which meant that girls were not only second-class citizens, they were also looked down upon for wanting to play sports with the boys. Douglas’ own sister cautioned her that if she continued to partake in the rough-and-tumble world of football with the boys, she would never be able to “catch a husband”. Another cringe-inducing recollection involves a neighbor girl that goes missing one summer. As the author eats dinner at her girlfriend’s house, there is talk of the missing girl. One brother remarks that he doesn’t know why everyone is making a big deal of things, after all, it’s ONLY A GIRL that is missing. Needless to say, the girls are appalled, and the father passes his son a large helping of food to keep him strong.
This attitude frustrated and upset me, and I was gratified to see the author leave Florida to attend Pratt Institute in NYC. She becomes enamored of the bustling city, even more so when she discovers a bunch of women playing football in an old sandlot. She asks to join the game, and with that simple question she starts a brand-new life. She makes fast friends with the women and play impromptu games with other “teams” in the area. Eventually a semi-pro team is formed called the New York Sharks, and the women have to learn to play nice with their former rivals, since now they are on the same team. They need to unite and believe in each other, as well as combat the attitudes of the coaches (who persist in telling the “ladies” to “behave”).
Douglas goes through a lot of ups and downs with the team, some emotional, some monetary. She ends up buying the Sharks and is now the owner/manager of the dysfunctional but lovable team. This causes her parents and siblings to heartily disapprove of her actions; they tell her so in a disappointed tone. All her life Douglas has wanted to be involved with football and now that her dream is coming true, she is still not considered to be a true woman. Despite the fact that she is challenging societal norms to follow her dreams, she is shunned by her lover also.
After suffering losses both in her professional and personal life, the author slides into a deep depression. Despite her best efforts, her team is imploding. She is not sure if she wishes to continue following her dreams. One bright light on the horizon is the creation of the International Women’s Football League, which the Sharks join. In true shark fashion, the team keeps moving forward and keeps on fighting. They are seeking a win in the Championship game and need to pull together one last time – can they do it?
This book is gritty and authentic, with lots of hilarious trash talk from all the players. I got an excellent grasp of the trials and tribulations of what goes on behind the scenes of a football game. Unfortunately, I also got an excellent look at how the women are still considered to be second class citizens and how their teams were not financially backed as well as the pro men’s teams. I’m certain that the pros don’t need to come up with $40 to pay for their own jerseys.
Douglas also shares her struggle with depression, which takes courage and strength. I too, would become depressed after continually facing the setbacks in her life. One message that I take away from this book is that women are still not thought of as equals, and that is sad. Despite all the strides we have made since Title IX, there is still more to be accomplished. Please read Douglas’ story with not only entertainment, but enlightenment in mind. You can get your copy here.