The Renegades team up for a tackle against a ball carrier for the Los Angeles Warriors. © Mitzi Velez Lorenzana

Renegades to relive championship through ESPN documentary (Berkeley Beacon)

July 1, 2020

Lara Hill | Berkeley Beacon

July 1, 2020

When the Women’s Football Alliance’s Boston Renegades’ owner abruptly left the team weeks before the 2015 season, Molly Goodwin was one of three former players who stepped in to lead the team. Since then, the Renegades have won two league championships and were keen to add another before the pandemic toppled their season.

Though the Renegades cannot defend their championship title this season due to COVID-19, the story of the team’s 2018 championship run will air on ESPN when the “Born To Play” documentary premieres on July 1 at 9 p.m. EDT.

Goodwin said she took the job as co-owner because she did not want this to be the end of women’s football in Boston.

“I just couldn’t conceive of Boston not having a football team,” Goodwin said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “Although none of the three of us had prior interest in owning or operating a team, we decided that we would take it for the short term until we could figure out some sort of continuity plan.”

The former owner branded the team as the Boston Militia since 2008, but he refused to let the organization move forward with the name after his departure. This eventually led to the decision to change the team’s name to the Renegades.

With just weeks to build the new organization before kickoff, Goodwin said the team received tremendous support from former players to make the 2015 season a reality.

“We had an alumni help us design our logo,” Goodwin said. “We had a team contest to figure out the name, we had all kinds of people from the community who volunteered to fundraise and help out on game day. That first year, we had a huge pop in interest and support because people were rallying around this new organization.”

The Renegades won back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019 under Goodwin’s ownership. Wide receiver and defensive back Chante Bonds said the team’s success stems from its commitment to the sport.

“A lot of dedication has brought us to our ultimate goal,” Bonds said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “I feel blessed to be on a team with women who are so dedicated to the sport and have the same mindset about football. For some of us, football is life, and if it really could be that and we didn’t have to work full-time jobs, I know this would be our full-time job.”

Athletes in the WFA are not paid to play professional football. In fact, players are required to pay a participation fee in order to help fund the team each season. Goodwin said that while the participation fee is not a league-wide policy, it is a reality for every team because of the high costs of playing the sport.

“We try to keep the [participation fee] as low as we can,” Goodwin said. “It’s all based on the additional fundraising and [how much money] we can bring in year after year. It’s not a cheap proposition, and I think that hinders the ability of some players to participate.”

The Renegades hold their practices late at night because many players work full-time jobs with no flexibility over their schedule.

“It’s a pretty tough balance,” Quarterback Allison Cahill said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “We have to practice after traditional work hours, so that means 8-10 [p.m.] for us. Most of us won’t get home until around 11 [p.m.], and then we can wind down, try to get a decent night’s sleep before the alarm goes off the next morning. It’s a grind, but it’s worth it.”

The Renegades rely on the support of fans and former players and actively engage with organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club, in Revere, where the team plays its home games. The players contribute to their community by volunteering in their spare time, and the team holds free clinics for children and hosts various local organizations at home games.

Cahill said the team makes an active effort to give back to the community to show its appreciation for their continuous support.

“We just want to show our appreciation for how much they’ve embraced us,” Cahill said. “The people who [attend our games] are pretty diehard. They not only show up for our home games, but fans will travel wherever else we play, and we really appreciate that. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to give back, we do our best to show them our gratitude.”

Despite the loss of the 2020 season, Cahill said she and the other long-time players instead saw this as an opportunity to get a head start on the 2021 season.

Behind the scenes, the coaching staff is focused on continuing the team’s championship run when sports return. Head coach John Johnson and the coaching staff meet regularly to craft the game plan for the 2021 season.

While the players cannot practice in person, Johnson continues to gather the team for virtual team meetings on Zoom, to not only keep the fundamentals of the game plan fresh, but to also keep morale high.

“We have a great group of captains that have really kept their teammates involved,” Johnson said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “Everyone is focused on how we can help the team with all the struggles everyone is going through.”

Meanwhile, Goodwin is challenged with maintaining the operations of the team. With the team earning much of its revenue from ticket and merchandise sales, she said the loss of the 2020 season could prevent some players from returning to the field.

“Financially, we have likely lost all of our opportunities for revenue,” Goodwin said. “I think a lot of our players have been pretty devastated by [the pandemic] financially, and some might not be able to continue.”

The Renegades will get to relive their 2018 championship when the “Born To Play” documentary airs Wednesday night. Cahill said she hopes this exposure opens up opportunities for not only the Renegades, but for the league as a whole.

“It’s a game changer,” Cahill said. “It is the premier sports network in the country. This is the channel where I watched all of my sports heroes and favorite athletes. To be given that platform is awesome, for all of us individually, for us as a team, hopefully for the whole league. It’s by far the most significant exposure we’ve ever got.”

Viridiana Lieberman, the director of the documentary, said she spent her time in grad school studying the fictional representation of female athletes, where they always had to prove the world wrong in order to be successful. When approaching the documentary,  Lieberman said she wanted “Born To Play” to instead focus on the true talent of the players.

“The film is about them just trying to win that championship, but I also wanted them to be seen as the athletes that they are,” Lieberman said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “I wanted to make them feel as epic as they deserve in a cinematic sense. It’s something I’ve been dying to see for a long time, a story that just allows women to play the game.”

Johnson said he hopes the documentary breaks down gender stereotypes and builds a larger fanbase for the WFA.

“Women can do anything,” Johnson said. “The stigma that women can’t do certain things, it’s just not the right mindset. It all starts with awareness, getting some exposure, and then supporting these athletes into doing even greater things.”