The B.C. Angels host the Saskatoon Sirens Saturday in Abbotsford for Canada's inaugural Lingerie Bowl. I was selected to the team in March after the first try-out for the Lingerie Football League expansion into Canada.
I was there to write about the women who undress for sport and instead I became one of them - sort of and reluctantly. A reporter is typically on the sidelines, and as a B.C. Angel that's literally where I was.
At a football practice at Andy Livingston Park in June, I got cracked in the head and knocked to the ground. The symptoms were immediate, but only in hindsight did I clue in. I had a concussion.
Our coaches rounded us up in a large circle and pitted two players against each other to spar over a ball in the middle. In a drill like this, speed and power are rewarded. If you're quick, the ball is in your hands and you're gone. Or if you're strong and can haul your opponent to the ground, she can't go anywhere even if she beat you to the ball. I was neither the fastest nor the strongest so I tried to be the craftiest_ that didn't work for me either. For months after the hit, my brain was still so witless and slow, I had to stop working, keep the lights shut off and stay away from books, television and the computer. I measured my recovery in weeks and then months.
There was no instruction from our coaches but the drill isn't untried in contact sports: test the agility, guts and strategy of players then see how they stack up. (At best, it's one way to establish rank. At worst, it's how you injure players at practice.)
When it was my turn, I thought defensively. I watched then reacted. What a mistake. I got beat and beat down to the ground. My opponent, five-foot-eight and broad, swung her hips at me and plowed her shoulder into the side of my head. It was a great hit.
Did I mention not one of us was wearing a helmet?
The modified hockey helmets came two months later. The hard-plastic shoulder pads the players eventually wore at practice were made for boys. Another player later broke her nose because there was no protection on her face or head during a scrimmage.
After I was hit, my opponent grabbed the ball and from the turf I clawed at her heels as she ran away. I hauled myself up and closed my eyes against the hot, white haze that had rolled over the summer sky.
I felt my heart at my temples, the corner of my brain where headaches still loiter. No coach checked in with me. No doctor ever followed up despite promises from my coach and the league.
I saw my family doctor every two weeks and now see her monthly. In March I will get an MRI.
The day after the hit we practiced and ran offence at Trillium Park for four hours. I grappled on the line - a defensive coach called it war, and it was - I even pulled someone's hair to keep her from my quarterback and ran patterns as a tight end. My legs were shot and my head was underwater. Playing was one of the worst things I could have done for my bruised brain.
I've stubbornly followed the B.C. Angels because I respect the women as athletes. They are dedicated and talented football players. A feminist scholar told me that lingerie football cannot be taken seriously as a sport as long as the silly, sexist and exploitative uniform is part of the game. The women don't care. Many revel in the bra and booty-shorts, embracing the exposure and the attention it brings their game. These are competitors who want so badly to play pro-am sports, they undress to do it.
At games, I've been on the bench. I put on the revealing bottoms with the butt-hugging ruching, costume my face with eye black and show my un-tanned body and soft skull to the sidelines. I can't play.