When I saw that Jen Welter had penned a memoir about her journey to the sidelines of the NFL as the first woman coach, I knew that I had to read it. As someone who loves sports like I do, especially football, I had been waiting for a book like this, from a woman like this, who I would consider to be one of the foremost trailblazers for women.
“Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless From the First Woman to Coach in the NFL” is the story of Dr. Jen Welter, and while I wanted to love it, there were parts of it that made me feel as if I should want to or need to be part of the ‘boys club’ and I simply don’t.
Let me explain. For all of the times Dr. Welter had to break through the proverbial glass ceiling, and there were many, it felt as if none of it mattered as much as when she was part of the Texas Revolution football team, a former member of the Champions Indoor Football league. As the only woman in that league, she felt constant pressure to prove herself not only to the team but to fans. She couldn’t quit even if she wanted to for fear that it would be the only thing people would remember. So is she saying that everything she had done up to that point wasn’t as important? Probably not, but reading it made me feel that way. While reading the book, I never thought she was a quitter, nor would I have judged her if she decided being part of the Revolution wasn’t worth the daily beating. I disliked reading how she had to act and talk like one of the guys to feel part of the team. I felt it cheapened the importance of what she was doing. I give her credit though: I don’t know many women who could do what she has done. However, I hope we never make women feel that they need to be part of a boys club to make a difference or to be noticed in sports.
I appreciate Dr. Welter’s overall message: Find what you love, become great at it, be the hardest worker in the room, and then bash whatever barriers are standing in your way. Her journey is unlike anything I have ever read or heard of, and I found myself asking on more than one occasion if I would have done the same things to accomplish my dreams. Truthfully, probably not. But it is her tenacity and talent that created her opportunities, and that is something everyone, both men and women alike, should be inspired by and appreciate. There’s a hint of bite and bad-assery (allow me to make up a word) in her narration that does cause you to sit up and take notice.
The biggest takeaway for me was the notion of being an “and not an or.” As women, we are told that we can’t be more than one thing, we shouldn’t be more than one thing, and focusing on too many things can be considered a hindrance rather than an asset. Dr. Welter describes that it was being the ‘and’ that set her apart and helped create her destiny. I felt that on a personal level.
Overall, the book offers insight on the hows and whys women should always strive for more. It really hones in on the basic and sometimes cliché notion that nothing can happen without hard work, perseverance, maybe a little bit of luck, and the idea that you are worth everything your dreams are built upon.