Hail Mary

Professional women’s sports don’t get a lot of publicity. Chances are you’ve never heard of the Austin Outlaws, the professional women’s football team established here in 2001. Members of the National Women’s Football Association, these ladies play full-contact tackle football against teams from across the country. And they’re good. TOP writer Nicole Haddad sat down with tailback Amber Lyons and receiver Lisa “Buzz” Walters to find out how hard it is to be a lady in a gentlemen’s game.

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courtesy Lisa “Buzz” Walters Amber Lyons 

That Other Paper How did each of you get started playing for the Austin Outlaws?

Amber Lyons I met one of the players on the team [Julie Wilke] through my sister. [Julie] started telling me about it, and I was living in Austin maybe two or three weeks at the time, and I just got really interested in it. This was three months before the first tryout. I just went and tried out and kind of fell in love with it because everyone was just really excited about the sport and could not wait to practice.

Lisa “Buzz” Walters I’ve always enjoyed getting women together to play recreational sports, and I got a bunch of women together to play flag football at Zilker. We had it every Sunday, and one day a dozen or so women tackle football players showed up and started tackling all of us during flag football. I started talking to them and they thought that I might be interested and tried to reel me in, and it didn’t take a whole lot. I started going to some of their fundraisers first and realizing what a team they were off the field before I ever saw them on the field. That was a big deal to me, just the passion that they all had. Really the football part came secondary to the family.

TOP Is football always something that you enjoyed playing?

AL When I was in seventh grade I wanted to play football instead of playing volleyball. They let girls play, but my parents, at the time, wouldn’t let me. So as soon as I heard about it here, I got really excited and thought it was time to try something new.

LBW I love football. In school I didn’t really play that much. I never tried out for the junior high team because I was too self-conscious. I didn’t want to be “that girl” that stood out in that negative way. I always loved catching the ball. I didn’t care what sport it was. Football seemed to be the sport that you do that most often, so that’s what drew me to it.

TOP How does women’s football differ from men’s football in terms of rules and regulations?

LBW We play the same as the NFL except we use a smaller ball. It’s one foot down for a completion as opposed to two feet when a receiver catches. I think there are only two rule differences, unless there’s something different in the rules this year.

TOP Are there special tactics that you use that as far as you know men’s football doesn’t use?

LBW In terms of strategy, the women’s game evolves a lot more [from] running than the men’s game, just because, as much as we’d like to consider ourselves as skilled as the men, realistically we’re probably not, and it takes a lot more things to go right in a passing play than it does in a running play. You can pretty much get one or two yards guaranteed running every time, but for passing there are so many things that have to go right to make that happen. There are so many things that can go wrong.

TOP Do you still focus on brute force in terms of defense?

LBW Yes, we do. A lot of the players I don’t think are naturally as inclined to be as violent as men. That’s something that more than likely has to be taught to most of us because we’re not brought up that way. Once we’re taught that and we’ve experienced what that feels like and how to channel that the right way, then it’s a really neat thing. But it’s definitely more of a practiced behavior than something that’s natural.

TOP Have either of you been injured while playing?

AL I just started, going on six weeks now, and I’ve lucked out besides a few bumps and bruises.

LBW My shoulders dislocate all the time. They dislocate in my sleep or when I reach up for something in the cupboard. I finally got surgery. I’m not supposed to play ever again, but everybody has had an injury. It’s something you learn to rehab from.

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courtesy Lisa “Buzz” Walters Lisa “Buzz” Walters 

TOP How do people react when you tell them you play football professionally?

AL Most people I’ve ever mentioned it to get excited and interested and want to come out and see it. I’ve only gotten positive responses from people.

LBW I’ve had varied responses. The people I know on a surface level think it’s really neat. But people who I know on a more personal level [are] more afraid for what it can do.

TOP How many women’s football teams are there in America?

LBW Throughout the whole nation [there are] 38, or there were last year. I think this year there are three expansion teams, which are teams that are just starting up. They participate in our leagues, but their records don’t count.

TOP Are you guys connected to any other teams in Austin?

LBW No. That’s probably the major problem with women’s football, that we don’t have a feeder system of any kind. We don’t start the girls out playing young, and they certainly don’t play in high school. Women are having to learn how to convert their general athletic talent.

AL I enjoyed watching the sport and I knew something about the sport, but I’ve been really thrown into it over the last six weeks. I realize now how much I did not know. You don’t grow up with it and see how much strategy goes into it. It just amazed me.

TOP Besides not having a feeder system, what are some of the other challenges that women’s football faces?

LBW The financial challenge is a big issue. People don’t take us seriously. They don’t believe that women athletes can produce that much intensity in a game like this. Recruitment is another issue. People just don’t get it until they see it. It’s a matter of getting them there for the first time, and then they come back.

TOP How do you go about combating these challenges?

AL We do [fundraisers] at restaurants, where we have people come in and we get a percentage of what you purchase. We do garage sales. We [sell] ads in our brochures and on the backs of tickets and sell T-shirts.

LBW We do speed dating at different locations. Marketing-wise, we go to a lot of elementary schools and talk to the kids and let them know that we have this option for when they grow up. We’re also doing music shows, getting local bands to do benefits for us.

TOP How much time do you put in practicing for the team?

AL We practice on the field seven and a half hours a week, which is three times a week, but on top of that we’re doing tons of fundraisers. I feel like we have football five or six days a week. We have something that we’re doing towards football, not even just the practice time. We’re emailing each other trying to set up fundraisers. Even if we’re not together as a team doing stuff, we’re doing stuff constantly during the week. And all of us work full time. We’re not getting paid for this, so it shows you how much everyone wants to do it.

LBW People coming in don’t realize what a huge commitment it is until they get involved and realize that they’re kind of stuck with it. It is like another full-time job. I’m not complaining, because it’s a blast – but it is a huge time commitment. We’re working professionally in our jobs by day and semi-professionally by night, and trying to make it work. It’s a juggling act.

TOP Do you think there will ever be a day where you’ll get paid to play football and that’s all you’ll do?

AL I can imagine it happening some day, but probably not in my career. I don’t think my body will hold out long enough for that to happen.

LBW The average career span is three to five years, and I really don’t see that happening in any of our careers. But I do hope that one day it will be like women’s pro basketball. A lot of people think that we’re crazy because we put up with all of this and put our bodies through all of this. But I think people don’t really understand that [this is] a chance that we’ve finally been given after so many years of being told no. I think that can make for some pretty dangerous women, and that’s very apparent on the field. People won’t understand that until they see it.

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courtesy Lisa “Buzz” Walters 
Want to experience the glory of women’s football firsthand?

Check out their season opener:

Saturday, April 14 | 7pm | $10
House Park Stadium
1301 1/2 Shoal Creek Blvd • Austin, TX 78701

For more information on the Austin Outlaws, including a full game schedule and how you can help in their fundraising efforts, visit them online at austinoutlaws.com.

Comments

Chris Trew's picture
TOP staff

I saw an Outlaws game last year and I was delighted to see that a large chunk of the audience were really into the game. Here’s to hoping attendance spikes in a big way this year.