New York Sharks, Women's Football Team, Highlights Acceptance, Camaraderie And Love In Sports

Sharing a field with youth soccer players at the Bushwick Inlet Park in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, the New York Sharks, women's professional football team are preparing for their June 15 playoff game against the Columbus Comets.

Chatter about a rookie talent show that recently took place at a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan is rampant among the diverse group of football players, as they stretch and dress for practice. Dark clouds hover over them and the near East River, while light rain taps their helmets.

Lauren Pringle, a 30-year-old, recently married wide receiver stops to chat with HuffPost Gay Voices, in between being asked about her wedding and football plays.

A few weeks ago she married her girlfriend of five years, who is a performer on Broadway. To show support, her teammates threw her a bachelorette party during the bus ride home from an away game in Maryland.

"We definitely had a good time," she said of the party. "It was a lot of fun."

In addition to planning her own wedding, Pringle and her wife assisted another teammate with her recent engagement. Katie Rose, a defensive end linebacker from Virginia, who loves the contact in the sport, recently got engaged to her girlfriend Melissa Pickett, a teammate who is also the current general manager.

Rose secretly planned a faux scavenger hunt leading up to the popular ruby-red steps in Times Square, where she got on one knee and proposed to Pickett, in front of Pickett's family and friends.

"Pringle was involved in the planning of it. We talked a lot beforehand. I remember her saying something like once you're engaged it's better and things are different," gushed Rose. "Once that happened, it was totally true."

Pickett, who's been a New York Shark for five years and is currently taking a break due to injuries, is happy that lesbian athletes are accepted on the football team.

"What's really nice is that we've always had a good mix of straight, young, older, homemakers and married girls, etc.," Pickett said. "Even despite all of those differences, when it comes to game time, we still have a common goal."

Although lesbian players are highly accepted on the New York Sharks, unfortunately some of the women can't fully be out at work and off of the field.

One 32-year-old linebacker, who asked to be identified only as Rebecca, said she had to be cautious about being out because she teaches young children, even though she's married to a quarterback on the team.

"Unfortunately, it comes down to what your age group is, what you're teaching, along with the culture surrounding it. Sometimes it's still a big stigma," she explained. "It's kind of like a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

Rebecca and her wife were in a long distance relationship between Los Angeles and New York for a year prior to tying the knot. Being on the same team, the couple is now able to spend a lot of time together, which they appreciate even more given the prior distance between them.

Outside of some of the romantic love that has developed on the football team, the players genuinely care about each other and most importantly, they passionately care about the sport.

Unfortunately, on June 15 the Sharks lost the game to the Comets, 20-22. It was a close game that intensified in the second half.

Sharks' head coach Richard Harrigan, a Brooklyn native who has been coaching football for over 30 years, feels that the team had a lot of opportunities to win.

After the game, the Sharks huddled to discuss their feelings about the night's loss. Still in their navy and sky blue uniforms, some players admitted faults during the playoff game and others offered tear filled speeches about how the team has become their "family."

The team that is affiliated with the Women's Football Alliance (WFA), may have endured a loss during the playoffs, but they're winning when it comes to acceptance and support.

Harrigan, who thinks that the same-sex relationships and comfortability to be out on the team is "positive", wants to be around to see the Sharks go to the next level, hopefully becoming paid athletes affiliated with the NFL.

"If the mainstream gets on fire with the total acceptance of it, just like the military, that will help women's football a lot actually into being a viable entity in the mainstream," he said. "The WNBA has the same issues because they have a lot of relationships and people who are lesbians playing."

Although not all of the players are in same-sex relationships, there's value in being able to just be and not feel like an other.

"What's great about this team and being around so many people that are like you, it just feels normal. You don't seem like an other. You just are living your life," Pringle said. "I'm married and I play a sport. That's how I see myself. It's really a great experience to not feel different.You can just be and that's the most amazing thing."



New York Sharks Women's Football Team