American football in the Netherlands: not just for men

Flight attendant and soccer player Rufina Michels Master.Photo: Julia Gunther

The Super Bowl will be held in Arizona, USA on Sunday. The pinnacle of the NFL season, the game is expected to reach an estimated 193 million U.S. viewers in a sport known for its military-like precision, prodigious muscularity and violence. increase. This is the ultimate men’s sport. But here in Holland we have an amateur American football league for women. Lauren Comiteau met her two players for her Cats in Amsterdam.

Rufina Michels-Mastail has been a flight attendant for Dutch airline Transavia for the past 17 years. But when she gets back on the ground, she’s out on the field. To be precise, American She is a football field. “I’m a quarterback and a defensive cornerback,” said her petite 5-foot-4-inch (164 m) Rufina, her friend and teammate Dominic Sherps, an art student at Zwolle. ) and say,

These two Amsterdam Cats players love American football, and both men and women are minorities in a country dominated by football. But four years ago, at the age of 38, Rufina, who had just given birth to her second son, was looking for a way to get back in shape. She attended her Cats practice in Amsterdam with her friend and she says she liked what she saw.

“I’ve never played a team sport, so it was a bit of a challenge,” says Rufina. “But when I saw this group of women during practice, I knew I could do this. How to watch and exercise This is what I love about sports, everyone can participate at any time in their life.

Dominique and Rufina.Photo: Lauren Comiteau

That’s far from the NFL. But in this amateur league where players pay to play, it’s all about love of the game. and camaraderie. “It’s really a team, but it’s also a family,” adds Dominic. “A year ago I had knee surgery and I had family around me who wanted to help me get back on the field. We need each other in the form of So even our competitors want to help us get stronger so they can get stronger too.

growing pains

The Dutch women’s league is not without growing pains. Founded in 2017 as the Queens Football League, it was reorganized into the non-profit Women’s Football League (WFL) last year after its founders closed down. It has six teams, including Rotterdam Ravens, Zwolle Blue Jays and Utrecht Dominators, and competes internationally in European leagues such as Germany, France and Sweden.

However, injuries mean the forfeiture of games due to lack of players, and there are few players. “Two out of four games have been canceled this year,” says Dominic, who ran for a touchdown in his team’s only win in the 2022 final in Sweden. Scrimmage with us, but this is never like a game.

quarterback Dominic Sherps.Photo: Bob de Calonne

They hope that will change in the next season, which starts at the end of summer.

family affair

Rufina says her husband supports her unorthodox sporting choices. “My husband thinks I’m crazy, but he thinks I’m super fun, gives off energy, and that’s what I do for me, so he supports me all the way.” “On the field or in practice, I’m not a mom or a wife. I’m just a stupid girl doing what she loves.”

He also brings her two young sons to most of his games. I hear him saying all the time, “Mom, go!” They like to brag that their mothers tackle everyone. They think people should be scared of me. I threaten them when they are not good. “Do you want Mommy to tackle you?” No, it’s okay!

Dominique also has the support of her family, who do not understand how she played the game and suffered a torn ACL. She had never seen a football game, let alone throw a ball. She saw an ad on Facebook and was inspired to try out for the league. Four years later, she is the quarterback for her Cats in Amsterdam. Her girlfriend also mocked the game’s violence at first, but after a few months of taking Dominc to the training field, she changed her mind.

“She’s playing now, too,” says Dominic. “She is my left guard!”


Dominique says she loves the challenge of games where her strength and competitiveness are assets. Still, she says, she had a stigma to overcome. “People think you’re a girl, and they show you pictures of girls who can be girly in dresses and long hair, but when you wear gear, you’re not girly anymore.

“I’m not that girly,” Rufina interrupts. It’s nothing new to me.

She uses skills from the air on the field. “I’m a first class flight attendant,” says Rufina. “I’m not a natural leader, but I’m good as a quarterback because I need to lead the offense and keep everyone sharp.” It’s one of the same things she does.

Looking to the future, both Dominique and Rufina want the NFL to advance women’s soccer around the world. As for her Super Bowl Sunday, Dominic, who wants to one day become the best quarterback in the league, will be rooting for her team, the Philadelphia Her Eagles. Rufina, who is an Atlanta Falcons fan, says she wants to keep playing until she’s 45, like Tom Brady. American football in the Netherlands: not just for men

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