Stephen Schaefer | Boston Herald
July 1, 2020
Wednesday night on ESPN, Viridiana Lieberman makes her documentary directing debut with a look at Boston’s gritty championship women’s tackle football team, the Renegades.
Surprised that Boston has such a team?
You are hardly alone. As Lieberman shows in “Born to Play,” a yearlong up close and personal look at the players in the Women’s Football Alliance, they block, pass and score in Revere for no pay but with unbridled passion.
“I spent time writing about female sport representation in cinema — but fictional,” Lieberman, 38, recalled. “I’d look at films and see if the characters were empowered.
“Then I realized I could create that visibility myself. My dream documentary was to make a sports doc. Then a friend clued me in that most major cities had a team and it was mind-blowing because it was all so established.
“Luckily for me, the Renegades were one of the best teams in the country.”
To begin her yearlong coverage, she first had to earn their trust.
“I’m originally from Boston. l just wrote them an email and said I’d try to tell a story about women’s sports that would honor them as athletes. None of those Hollywood ideals of ‘feminine construction.’
“It’s funny, when I first started filming they were concerned I was going to give away their plays from their practices. That wasn’t what I was there for!”
What she found so impressive was the desire, discipline, dedication. “They all pay to play and have full-time jobs. When you’re there with Renegades in their world, they’re playing professional football. For a lot of them, their paying jobs are to support their career as a professional football player.
“Everything during season is for football — that is the most surprising thing. I didn’t realize what it would feel like as they say unapologetically, ‘This is what we do.’
“The lack of spectator interest in women’s sports? Doesn’t matter — because that’s not why they’re doing it. That was amazing.
“They created their own destiny. They didn’t wait for permission to play or get sponsors — and that blows my mind.”
Football is a rough contact sport. What’s the appeal?
“With these women, it’s just such a high. That’s why multiple players told me they felt they were born to play football.
“The passion to play differs from case to case but they all get a thrill from the contact nature. There is something about when you are in it and tackling and it hurts but the adrenaline is something other worldly.
“They’re putting their body on the line and testing their vulnerability.”