By Brad Townsend
The Dallas Morning News
Jennifer Welter is 5-foot-2, 130 pounds, 36 years old and determined to play professional football with and against men.
During a press conference Friday, Welter signed a contract to attend training camp with the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League.
Welter, who since 2004 has played linebacker for the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Football Alliance, will try out at running back when the Revolution’s training camp begins Feb. 8.
It’s believed that she is the first non-kicker or placekick-holder to be invited to try out for a men’s football league. So what is her motivation?
“Right now, all across the country, when girls play football, when they have a choice, it’s either play with the boys or don’t play at all,” Welter said.
“I really want to show them that it’s OK. And regardless of whether it’s football, you should be able to take the opportunity and run with it.”
There are countless examples of girls playing at the youth, high school and college levels.
The first documented case of a woman playing in a men’s pro league occurred in 1970, when Patricia Palinkas appeared in several minor league games as a place-kick holder for her husband, Steve.
In recent years, kickers Katie Hnida and Julie Harshbarger have played in and scored in the (indoor) Midstates Football League, but there are no documented cases of women position players in men’s leagues.
“Somebody said, ‘Are you going to protect her?’ ” said Dallas native Tim Brown, the Revolution’s general manager and the 1987 Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame. “It’s football. And it’s cage football. So how are you going to protect her? You can’t run out of bounds in this sport.”
Welter said Revolution team officials approached her with the idea.
Welter is a Vero Beach, Fla. native who last year earned her PhD. in psychology.
She does consulting work in sports psychology.
“I told them, ‘I respect football first and foremost,’ ” she said. ” ‘If this doesn’t respect the game, if it’s just some gimmick, I won’t do it.’
“I don’t know if I surprised them a little with that, because they said, ‘You know, you could go through part of training camp.’ I said, ‘No, no, no. If I’m going to go through training camp, I’m going to go through all aspects of it, just like the boys do.’ That’s what I believe.”
She took up football at 18, but played rugby while attending Boston College.
In addition to the Dallas Diamonds, she also played in the 2010 and 2013 Women’s World (football) Championship, helping Team USA win the title both times.
“When you look at her resume, when you look at who she is, she’s not a joke,” Brown said. “This is not a lady that does anything for laughing matters or just for stunts. This is something she’s taking seriously. If she’s going to take it seriously, guess what? We’re going to take it just as serious.”
Though small in stature, Welter is muscular.
Though she plays linebacker for the Diamonds, first-year Revolution coach Chris Williams decided it would be best that she play running back against the men.
“I think it gives her more of a chance to compete,” he said. “I just didn’t want her in those one-on-one strength matchups.
“For me as a football coach, I’m just going to tell you, I would not put myself in a position where we were doing something just for a promotional stunt. I don’t have time for that. At the end of the day, I’m trying to build a championship football team.
“She is a real athlete who has played the sport of football. We’re not talking about somebody who’s just coming off the runway as a model. This is a girl who’s played the sport, understands the sport, and she’s going to give herself an opportunity to compete. That’s what I like about this.”
Friday’s press conference was held on the back lot of Crest Cadillac in Plano.
The Revolution opens its season against the North Texas Crunch on Feb. 15 at the Allen Event Center, where it plays all of its home games.
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In 2011, the franchise moved from Arkansas to Allen. It’s best known for signing former Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens in 2012. He played eight games before being cut.
“I don’t care if I make the team or whether I’m a superstar on the team,” Welter said.
“I want people to see that there are girls who love football and know football and are dedicated, hard-working athletes.
That goes much beyond this team.”