Tara Passoni '98
You know those television shows on Fox, the kind with an innocent college student by day who becomes death-defying CIA agent by night? So imagine this one: financial services technical writer by day, bone-crunching professional football player at night—and this is real life. Meet Tara Passoni '98, for the past two seasons a member of the New York Sharks, a full-contact professional woman's football team.
Passoni resists being defined as a "female football player," feeling that's only a part of who she is. Instead, this self-described "kid from Queens" feels amazed at where she's arrived in her life, both professionally and intellectually. "I'm an ex-philosopher type," she says with a grin. "But I also like to smash people up."
By now there are the usual assumptions she's come to expect: about her intellect (football players are dumb), her sexuality, and that people think women's football is, as she puts it, "a total farce." (In fact, women's football has "the same rules as the NFL, but with a smaller ball," Passoni says.)
The business-day Passoni is slim in a gray business suit, her manner friendly but shy. For security reasons she declines to name the New York-based company she writes for, but she's happy to talk about competitive sports, her first love.
"It's an interesting struggle as a player, to go from a 9-to-5 corporate environment working with people, to a game where your primary job is to crush anybody who gets in your path," she says. "Football is such an amazing outlet for any emotions you have, because by the time the game's over, they're gone. It's an incredibly present sport and you have to be extremely focused. You expend everything you have. Even if you're on offense, even if you know the play, there are too many variables. Even pain stops while you're playing. If you're not paying attention, people are going to run you over. I've had that, and it's not a fun experience."
Does it affect her self-image as a woman? "I'm so much more confident than I was," Passoni answers. "I'm the sort of person who wants to quit easily. And in football, you want to quit all the time. You're in pain, or your friends want to go out on Friday night and you can't go because you've got morning practice. But you do it. And that's carried over into a lot of stuff.
The New York Sharks have an eight-game season, playing in New York, Florida and Canada. The sport has yet to receive the type of coverage enjoyed by, say, professional women's basketball and soccer. One reason Passoni feels that women's football isn't better known is that there are seven individual leagues, all with different team requirements, which prevents creating a cohesive image for the sport.
And, she believes, American society discourages women from being strong. "You watch television and all of the young girls weigh about fifty pounds." Passoni's ultimate dream is to be a competitive Olympic weightlifter. "If little girls had the opportunity to grow up [developing strength], it might filter into the workplace, and help their ability to assert themselves and handle obstacles," she observes. "They would learn to use aggression appropriately, instead of suppressing it, the way ladies do. Because in football, every moment is a new experience."