The story of women’s professional football is, in terms of years, a brief tale. Long considered a bastion of male sport because of its demanding physical nature, American culture has been slower to consider the possibility of women playing football than they have other premier sports like basketball and baseball. Women like Andra Douglas set out to change those preconceptions and her book Black & Blue: Love, Sport and the Art of Empowerment is a thoughtful, personal, and often fiery fictionalized recounting of her pursuing a dream that she never consigned to oblivion. Sweep all considerations of gender aside – this book is an important reading experience no matter what your reproductive organs are and an critical text for understanding one facet of many in our nation’s ongoing and transformative dialogue about equality.
Many often say the personal is political. You will find no long-winded diatribes for feminism in this book or sermonizing for The Cause, but Douglas nonetheless makes her allegiances clear. She is on the side of anyone, regardless of gender, who holds dreams and ambitions for themselves close to their heart told no, for whatever reason, and her book tacitly urges such readers to keep pushing and striving to realize the sense of empowerment they deserve. She is unflinching about portraying the wreckage along the way. It may complicate family dynamics, contribute to the fracturing of romantic relationships, but Douglas never allows these difficulties to divert her from her dreams.
I admire her ability as a first time writer for creating compelling characterizations throughout the book. She fills Black & Blue with a plethora of one of a kind personalities who are every bit as much of an “outlaw” as Douglas – and some of the most compelling and revealing moments of the book come through during her interactions with a number of these characters. She does a fine job, as well, bringing her family to life for the reader – the portraits of her parents are exceptional and they live on the page as fully rounded people rather than clichés. The latter point is critical. Black & Blue can succumb to cliché at various points, but Douglas’ talents as a writer and storyteller prevent it from ever happening.
It is hard to make out the differences between the book’s non-fiction and fictional aspects. The work reads more like a strict non-fictional account of her life story and I wondered a lot why she took this approach to the story rather than penning a straight forward factual account as she remembered it. There are a number of possible reasons. It never interfered with my enjoyment of the story, however, and she does possess the innate gifts of a born storyteller. There is evidence for this in every chapter. Black & Blue: Love, Sport and the Art of Empowerment will stand for many years as a definitive depiction of what it was like pushing against the tide of long-standing preconceptions regarding women playing football, but Andra Douglas has given us something even greater as well – a personal testament to the journey of her life.