American footballer in London urges women to join in and tackle stereotypes

Lizzie Edmonds, EveningStandard

Hard hitter: Lucie Stewart in action on the field

A female American football player from London is calling on women to try out her sport, insisting gridiron is “not just for boys”.

Lucie Stewart, 29, said she had been told the game “wasn’t for girls” — but hoped she was proof that women of all shapes and sizes could get involved.

Stewart plays for London Warriors as a safety — a key defensive position. She was the only woman at a 160-player training academy hosted by the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team, and said she felt it was her mission to encourage women to give it a go.

The head of sales at a City sports firm added: “There are a lot of people who said I was too small or I couldn’t play because I am a girl. It is a contact sport and there is the impression that it’s not for women — especially not ones who are a size eight and 5ft 7ins like me. But successful teams have players of all shapes and sizes from all backgrounds.

“I’d urge women to defy critics and give it a go. I would like to encourage women to try American football and not be put off by stereotypes. It’s not just for boys.”

British American Football Association figures suggest participation by women is up 80 per cent year on year.

Stewart took it up 18 months ago at a “rookie session” of flag football — a non-contact version of the sport — hosted by the London Warriors. She has since played for Great Britain at the European championships, where the team won silver in tackle football — the contact version of the game. She was the only player to be picked for both Team GB women’s flag and tackle sides.

Stewart, who lives in Putney, said as well as improving her fitness, the game had taught her humility and respect, improved her strategic thinking and opened up a whole new social group. She feels more needs to be done to encourage women to “forget what they look like” when being active.

“There is a video interview out there of me after a training session and I look like I have been training hard. But I don’t mind as that is what you are supposed to look like when you’ve been doing sports. We need to tell women to defy society and forget what people say about needing to look cute.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars coaching staff at the boot camp at Loughborough University this month were led by special teams coordinator Mike Mallory and assistant defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton. Londoner Efe Obada, a linebacker who recently signed for Kansas City Chiefs, gave a speech to the rookies.

The camp was part of ongoing efforts by the Jaguars to boost UK participation in the sport. Mallory said: “What stuck out was the level of enthusiasm.”

Details at londonwarriorsafc.co.uk and jaguars.com/uk

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