History: First woman non-kicker to play in men's pro football league

History: First woman non-kicker to play in men's pro football league

Credit: Jen Welter

History: First woman non-kicker to play in men's pro football league

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by NINA MANDELL / USA TODAY Sports 'For The Win'

KING5.com

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 8:32 AM

Jen Welter stepped onto the field in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game to become what the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution believes to be the first woman to appear in a men’s pro game in a non-kicking position.

The 36-year-old finished with 3 rushes for a loss of one yard. The Revolution beat the North Texas Crunch, 64-30.

“It was amazing,” she told For The Win. “I have the best team in the world and I proved to everyone I could get back up when I got hit and that’s all you can ask.”

When asked if she had heard any trash talk from the player on the field who tackled her first, she laughed.

“I don’t know if he said anything but I asked him if that’s all he had,” she said.

Though she was the first to play a contact position Welter was not the first woman in a men’s professional football league. Patricia Palinkas appeared as a holder for the men’s semi-pro Orlando Panthers in 1970. Julie Harshbarger and Katharine Hnida kicked in men’s pro games four decades later.

The team held a press conference for Welter after announcing they had signed her on Friday. Listed at 5-2 and 130 pounds, Welter normally plays linebacker in women’s leagues. In Saturday night’s game she was switched to running back and played on special teams.

“I just listened to my coaches,” she said of handling the switch. “Luckily I’m used to contact so that part didn’t intimidate me.”

She first began practicing with the team when training camp began last week and said her teammates immediately treated her as an equal.

“In practice people are competing for their livelihood here so it’s not like you have the luxury of sidestepping the girl if she comes through,” she said.

In a press release issued before the game, the team said that Welter is not expected to make the team’s final roster but the Revolution hoped that “this event will showcase her talent as a female athlete and serve as a fundraiser for a charitable organization.”

“Dr. Welter is an amazing athlete who has proven herself to be amongst the top female tackle-football players in the world and we are excited to bring her into training camp” said Revolution general manager and former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown in a statement released by the team before the game. “Though she may be considered a long shot to make the final roster, this event will showcase her talent as a female athlete.”

But after the game, Welter said she would like to continue playing.

“I’m an athlete, I’m competitive,” she said. “But the bigger thing for me is obviously for little girls to see they can do everything just like little boys can.”

The Revolution’s coach, Chris Williams, said he wasn’t sure who would be on the roster in the next game.

“The only thing I could say is that she played football,” he said. “And at the end of the day it was amazing to see. And I’m going to tell you I never thought I would see a female play the game and then guys hit her the way they hit other guys like it happened in the game tonight.”

Welter began her athletic career playing rugby at Boston College. She played for Team USA in 2010 and 2013 at the Women’s World Championship, most recently beating Canada 64-0. She has played for the Dallas Diamonds in the Women’s Football Alliance since 2004.

Despite those accomplishments, she said Saturday was her best football memory yet.

“This is something no one ever thought would be done and I really feel like I have the honor to play with (my team) and play for a lot of the girls that I’ve played with and played against across the country,” she said, her voice breaking a bit. “It was a big honor.”

Welter lives in Addison, Tex. and also works as a sports psychologist, personal trainer, endorsement model and motivational speaker.

The team’s stadium in Allen, Tex holds 6,000 people. Before the game, the team said it had sold all but a few dozen tickets. It was the Revolution’s first game of the season.

The minimum salary in the IFL is $250 a game.

With additional reporting by Tom Pelissero

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