Day 6

Who needs Tom Brady? The growing popularity of competitive women's tackle football in Canada

Tackle football is typically thought to be the domain of men, but across the country more and more women are playing the game. We talk with two members of the Western Women's Canadian Football League about why tackle's where it's at.

'Football is football,' says WWCFL player and president Jaime Lammerding

A Saskatoon Valkyries player carries the ball in a 2015 WWCFL game against the Regina Riot. (Louis Christ)

It's a sport that involves being hit hard and thrown to the ground, being muddy and cold and a little banged up.

Tackle football is for athletes who love to play hard, and the women who play in the Western Women's Canadian Football League (WWCFL) absolutely love it.

This weekend, the WWCFL kicks off its 2019 season with teams in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It's one of a growing number of women's tackle football leagues across North America.

The WWCFL launched in 2011 and has eight teams across the Prairies. None of the players are paid and most have full-time jobs. Some have families. And so for financial and practical reasons the league's season is short — through May and June.

Like many women's sports leagues, the WWCFL struggles to get recognized and to receive the same media coverage that might be given to a men's league.

"It's frustrating, but I think we're growing and starting to get word out there more," league president Jaime Lammerding told Day 6 guest host Saroja Coelho.

A Saskatoon Valkyries player tries to tackle a player with the Regina Riot in a WWCFL game from 2015. (Louis Christ)

The appeal of the game

Lammerding has been playing tackle football since she was a child and played with her high school football team. She was the only girl on the team and though she had the support of her family and friends, it wasn't always easy.

"I was kind of used to some of the talk about 'girls can't play football' and stuff like that," she says. But it didn't deter her from playing. In addition to being the WWCFL president, Lammerding is also a player with the Saskatoon Valkyries.

It is disheartening ... the women's sport doesn't seem to get the same sort of coverage.- Angie Douville, WWCFL secretary

Lammerding says she found comfort in joining the Valkyries.

"Just being surrounded by other people who were maybe facing the same kind of animosity was helpful, and we kind of knew what we were doing was the right thing and that it was a good thing, and it didn't matter what other people were going to tell us," she said of the naysayers.

Angie Douville is a former player with the Regina Riot and is now the league's secretary. She started playing tackle football when she was 35.

"I got to go to a camp in Saskatoon and tried it out," Douville explained. "It was run by the Valkyries and it was totally fun. It was a great time."

Both Douville and Lammerding have played other sports, but both were drawn to the aggressive nature of tackle football.

"It was just something that appealed to me. I have a big body and I wanted to see how I could use it," said Douville, laughing.

Angie Douville of the Regina Riot (#54, red), and Jaime Lammerding (#21, green) compete in a WWCFL game in 2015. (Louis Christ)

They were also drawn to the sport because it wasn't traditionally played by women. As Douville says, it was a "novelty."

"You know, when you go out and you tell someone you play football they don't automatically think that you're playing tackle football because you're a woman. And women typically don't do tackle sports or, you know, more aggressive sports, so they automatically think it's flag or touch or something like that," said Lammerding.

Overcoming the stereotypes that come with high level sports is a difficult one for women in football and across the sports spectrum.

Women's sports and the battle for recognition

On May 1st the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) ceased operations.

The very next day more than 200 of the world's top female hockey players announced that they will not compete in any North American league next year unless they're given the resources they say they deserve as high level athletes, including a decent wage.

Kristin Hagg was the general manager of the CWHL's Calgary Inferno. This week she said that "we live in a society where people do not value women's sport."

"It is disheartening," said Douville.

"I can see [what] she's saying. We see a lot of [U Sports] football on television. We see Western Hockey League, like lower tier young kids playing, but the women's sport doesn't seem to get the same sort of coverage," said Douville.

The Regina Riot (red) compete against the Saskatoon Valkyries (green) in a WWCFL match. (Louis Christ)

Lammerding points out that there aren't many differences in how the game is played in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and WWCFL.

"Maybe there's one or two [rules] that are different from how they play in the CFL, and that's just because we play amateur rules versus the rules that they play there," Lammerding explained.

"Our football is a size smaller, but there's actually more differences between, you know, the CFL and the NFL, but nobody ever says ... 'well, one's not football, or the other is not football.' It's just sports and football is football," said Lammerding.

But both Douville and Lammerding are confident that the WWCFL is sustainable and helping to develop tackle football for women and girls.

"The WWCFL has done a very good job of inspiring younger athletes and younger female athletes and even older female athletes to come out and try something they've never done before," explained Lammerding.

"And several of our teams have created youth girls football leagues in their cities. So that's helping too, whether it's flag or its tackle. It's specific to girls and it gets them interested and gets them going into it and that's the next generation that we'll need to fill our shoes."

To hear more from Jaime Lammerding and Angie Douville, download our podcast or click 'Listen' at the top of this page.