True-Hearted Vixens

FootballThe Minnesota Vixens and the Lake Michigan Minx aren't names that crop up regularly in football conversations. Not even the most dedicated ESPN fans will have heard of either team. Not until they see True-Hearted Vixens, the film documenting a season in the life of the Women's Professional Football League (WPFL), that is.

Riding the wave of interest in women's sports, director Mylene Moreno wanted to spread the word about women's football -- and help to bring teams like the Vixens and the Minx into the public eye.

True-Hearted Vixens, which airs on public broadcasting stations on July 17, invites its audience into the hearts and minds of the women behind the football jerseys. Although the league included 80 women, Moreno's film chose to focus on two characters: Jane Bolin, 24, a former political consultant and linebacker for the Minx, and Kertria "Moochie" Lofton, 33, a former security officer, and wide receiver for the Vixens.

In a recent phone interview Moreno said she chose to focus on these two women because they "proved themselves as leaders and had the most to say." Bolin's energy and optimism grow during the season as her team, the Minx, wins every game against the Vixens; Moochies determination to stick to her goals despite the odds (and her team's lower scores) stands as a sharp contrast.

"I always prided myself on the fact that, hey, I play sports, I’m pretty good … and I’m not a dyke," Bolin says in the film. "Well, there goes your stereotype."
The fact that the two play for different teams only serves to emphasize their individual drives to compete and succeed -- although, inevitably, only one experiences the glory of winning. Neither Bolin nor Moochie lets competition get in the way of their camaraderie, however. Throughout the film they support each other's wins and losses, as well as their personal self-discoveries.

For example, in November, Bolin started dating Red Bryant, the Vixens defensive linewoman.

"I always prided myself on the fact that, hey, I play sports, I'm pretty good and I'm not a dyke," Bolin says in the film. "Well, there goes your stereotype."

However, she adds, "I'm so sick of that stereotype, because I'm not embarrassed. I'm proud of myself."

Moreno agreed that the lesbian stereotype was in the back of her mind during the films creation and admits that she had wanted the film to address it in some way.

Bolins ability to speak with candor about her sexuality is indicative of the rest of the players' attitudes. Moreno describes the group as "young, and unsophisticated," but admits that this made them more interesting subjects. With their lack of corporate sponsorship, and modest living arrangements, she found that women on both teams were "unconstrained and free to be themselves."

This is what makes the film shine. Whether they're discussing self-doubt, sexual identity or sweaty uniforms, the characters express themselves with a sincerity rarely seen in modern cinema. While their odyssey into the as-of-yet unpromoted world of women's football was often hard, they remain optimistic throughout the film.

*******


The athletes make difficult choices, as they leave behind jobs and families to live in shared apartments, practice in the cold Milwaukee Winter, with only the promise of one fourth of 1 percent of the tours profits.



"Different" -- John Jay HS

"We all sacrificed a lot back home; our families, our jobs," Moochie says at the film's beginning.

And she's right. The women of True-Hearted Vixens are dedicated to the game. We learn that Kaylee Alayon, the running back, has left her job as a hotel administrator, while Shannon Davis, a quarterback, left her engineering job at NASA to play for the league. Through their sacrifices, they stand out as pioneers in a male-dominated world, and do so with flair. Moochie, who brings her daughter Ashley along on the tour, and the other players are unified by their drive and curiosity.

The film also introduces Terry Sullivan, the CEO of the league, whose course Moreno follows throughout the season. Its a course that wasnt easy, especially when in November the local Pioneer Press published an article titled "Another Doomed Dream?" which focused on Sullivans and his company's legal histories.

"The only reason they could be writing the story is to go after womens sports and say, We don't want women playing tackle football," Sullivan remarked, following the publication of the article. Sullivans comments seem justified, particularly since the local press covered only one of the leagues games that season. However, the article raises questions among some of the players -- Moochie in particular, who leaves at the end of the season disillusioned and without pay.

"A quarterback, left her engineering job at NASA to play for the league."
Sullivan ultimately decides that his days as a football promoter were over. However, the league continued with a 2000 season. When the leagues backers ran out of money mid-season, Colorado investors planned another season for 2001. Presently, the league is still going strong, with games planned through the championship game on October 20. (It's clear that female football teams do have a fan base, as evidenced by the 1999 seasons numbers -- 2,463 fans attended the first game.)

While Moreno gives voice to the leagues problems, she does not overemphasize them. Instead, she underscores the importance of the players acceptance of difficult challenges in the name of promoting something they believe in. By focusing on the positive rather aspects of working with the league, Moreno creates role models out of the women she worked with on the film.

True-Hearted Vixens is not just for football fans, however. Because the film focuses more on the individual successes and struggles of the players than on the sport itself, it allegorizes the challenges of young women everywhere, in all aspects of society. Through her work, Moreno conveys the message that change is possible, but only through individual drive, desire and determination.


Jessica Barnett is also the author of Review: Bridging the Gap, a personal essay about teh ways she negotiated her political differences with her parents.

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