While women have played kicker in pro football, Jennifer Welter has broken new ground by becoming the first female running back on a men's team.
Jennifer Welter, a running back for the Texas Revolution football team, center, stands in line for a smoothie among high school football players in Allen, Texas, on Feb. 21. Welter, who played in a women's football league for 13 years, is the first woman to play a position other than kicker for a typically male pro team. The Revolution competes in the Indoor Football League.
Welter, 36, walks with her gear to the Allen Event Center arena ahead of the first regular-season game. A personal trainer and aerobics instructor with a Ph.D. in psychology, Welter said she fell in love with team sports as a child but was discouraged by some coaches because of her size -- she's 5-foot-2 and 130 pounds -- and gender. Welter told the TODAY show that she turned to football as "a quest to understand why I could defeat the odds in so many ways."
Welter does part of her prep for the game in the women's locker room, where the team's dancers also get ready. Then she moves to the men's locker room to don her pads and other gear. Welter was invited to try out for the Texas Revolution last month. Revolution Coach Chris Williams said that while he was skeptical at first, "she’s earned the right to be on the football team."
Revolution dancer Heather Ford braids Welter's hair before the game. Welter said there was no huge fanfare when she learned she made the team. "I want to be a solid member of my team," she said. "I want us to win the game."
Javics Jones, left, a linebacker, helps Welter put on her jersey and pads in the men's locker room. “For so long, football has been the final frontier of sports — the place women cannot and should not go," Welter told the TODAY show. "It’s the greatest game in the world. There are so many women who love it, not just in this country but all over the world. So why not, and why not me? They gave me the opportunity, so I couldn’t pass it up.”
Welter stretches with her team before a game against the Cedar Rapid Titans. "I knew I would make it through training camp because I'm a tough person.... I've been hit hard before," she said. Welter played rugby for Boston College and played linebacker in the Women's Football Alliance.
The 5-foot-2, 130-pound Welter huddles with her team before the game. Revolution Coach Chris WIlliams said Welter made the team because along with her athleticism, "her character and her approach and desire brought something to our football team."
"It was about her being an inspiration for the rest of our guys," he added. "How much courage does she have to have to be there with you?"
“It’s all about living in the moment, and the moment for me is right now," said Welter, seen heading onto the field for the start of the game.
Welter encourages teammate Brian Ellis, a defensive lineman, right, during a game. "I’m just trying to learn every day," she said. "The best thing you can hope for is that your whole roster elevates, and I just hope to be a part of that."
Welter watches the game, waiting to play. "I don’t think people understand why she’s doing it," Coach Chris WIlliams said. "Jen Welter does not want to be a long-term player in a men’s league. She wants football for females and young girls to grow and for those young girls to have a chance to play the game."
Entering the game with 30 seconds to go, Welter took handoffs on two running plays and was tackled for a loss on both carries. Welter said her game-night goals were different from those of her teammates. "To me it was to take some hits and show people that I was going to get back up and still do it," she said.
The Revolution won 47-30 against Cedar Rapids. Afterward, Welter signs a T-shirt for a young fan. "This has been a dream come true, and yet it was bigger than I could’ve possibly dreamed," she said.