Let’s get this out of the way: I am a huge sports fan. So when I had the opportunity to review a book about a group of women determined to play tackle football at the highest level, I was game.
What I got was far more than a simple feel-good novel in the vein of Rocky or Rudy. Black & Blue (Book Baby) by Andra Douglas is an important story of breaking societal norms, battling stereotypical prejudices, and coming to terms with what defines you as a person.
Technically the book is a novel. But as I was reading, I felt Douglas herself was talking to me and telling her story. In fact, it was not until the narrator was introduced by name (the same, incidentally, as Douglas’s mother Christine) that I realized this was not a memoir.
She lays it out the core issue at the very beginning: “I grew up in the South. The freedom the South offers to its males is a singular experience. Gaining this freedom is a game of sorts… Football is the southern males’ identity.”
“Had I been born a male, things would have been different… the South would have engulfed me, seduced me and made me a child of its own. As a female, it still engulfed me, still seduced me, but then betrayed me as lovers do who end up bitter, never repairing the scars of trust gone awry.”
“It is this football I mention…that made me whole, and it was the part my lover, the South, would not give to me.”
Christine (or Andra) lives a life of professional accomplishment: As an adult, she is an artist of note (she’ll draw several hundred to a New York City opening) and also VP/Creative Director for Time Warner. But from her childhood in the deep South, her ambitions were to play football and not much else: “I do not like lace. I hate cooking. I am too young to wear a bra and burn it.”
She later writes “I am overcome and overrun with the insecurities of being female and the shame of loving a forbidden sport.”
She stands on the sidelines hoping to get chosen in a boys’ pickup game. When given the chance to prove herself on the field, she gets some sense of fulfillment and respect.
Fast forward to her relocation to New York City, where she connects with a group of women longing to play “flag” football. Eventually, this opens the door for the creation of a professional football league for women. Christine becomes a quarterback for the New York Sharks (a real-life team) and later the team owner. This also introduces us to a diverse group of characters – think a more serious Semi-Tough for women. “Women’s football is toxic. Jealousy, accusations, deceit and cruelty.”
While the book chronicles each football season game by game leading to a league championship run, the games are secondary to Christine sorting out her priorities, identity and love life. She insightfully lets us into her feelings about her family, lover, and everything else about the conflict between her upbringing and her passions. This work is a sports story as the backdrop, with the memorable moments and passages taking place off the field.
As much as anything, Black & Blue is a celebration of the written word, with Douglas providing marvelous descriptions throughout the book, related to her inner thoughts and her youth. For example:
- While hunting with her dad, “We spot four turkeys running like their backs are on fire.”
- Across the line of scrimmage her opponent seems distracted: “He has a strange look on his face like someone trying to convert Fahrenheit to Centigrade while their house burns down.”
- Her insight when her father reminisces about their old dog. Do you remember her, he asks. “Yes, I answer. I really don’t, but I say I do because it always makes a memory sweeter if two are in on it.”
- Describing a dead salmon: “The one on top has its mouth open like it had something important to say but ran out of time.”
- “Back when marriage was invented, people only lived to be thirty or so. By the time a couple began to really know each other, one of them had the courtesy to drop dead.”
Naturally, Christine throughout the story realizes her mission is much bigger than football: “Women are being set free. We are flying. After years of being clipped, our wings are unfurling into colors and patterns that only God’s eyes could’ve created. Each touchdown, each play we run, breaks a link in the shackles and allows us to melt sweetly in the freedom we have never known.”
As you might figure, the narrator’s art gallery has forty pieces showing the faces of women’s football: one “whose green eyes seek acceptance” and another with “a white-tooth grin on her uplifted face claiming her place on her team.”
Black & Blue is now available for purchase.
Learn more about Andra on her Author Profile page.
About Andra Douglas
A native of central Florida and a graduate of Florida State University and Pratt Institute, Andra Douglas has been a national champion athlete in rugby and women’s tackle football, a vice president/creative director at Time Warner, the founder of the Fins Up! Foundation for Female Athletes, a non-profit to benefit at-risk tends, owner of the New York Sharks women’s pro football team for 19 years and a known artist. She lives in New York City with her parrot, Pie.