Cil Winton, in black uniform, and Sarah Stuhr, in red uniform. Photo by Sarah Whiting
Cil Winton, in black uniform, and Sarah Stuhr, in red uniform. Photo by Sarah Whiting

reported by Kassidy Tarala

When Sarah Stuhr (they/them/their) was a seventh grader, looking for a sport to join, they came home with a permission slip to be signed by their mom.
“You know you filled this out for football, right?” Stuhr’s mother asked out of surprise.

Stuhr’s mom signed the permission slip, but they still had to sit down with the principal, football coaches, and the school board to discuss what it meant for Stuhr to play a “man’s sport.”

The coaches agreed to let Stuhr on the team, but they wouldn’t stay for long. After being called a “pain in the ass” by teammates, and getting left out of locker room talks, Stuhr came to the harsh realization that it would be a long time before someone like them would be welcome.

Now, Stuhr’s time has come.

Stuhr joined the Minnesota Vixen, a full-tackle women’s football team, three years ago. Stuhr now plays left tackle on offensive line.

“Many people think I’m talking about soccer when I tell them I play football,” Stuhr says. “But once they’re past the initial understanding, people generally think it’s pretty badass. Because it is.”


No Experience, Will Train

Laura Brown, the Minnesota Vixen head coach, always has had a love for football. Growing up, however, she was never able to experience the sport. “One of our biggest challenges is that we don’t have a feeder program,” Brown says. “Occasionally, some of our players were on their high school football teams, but that’s pretty rare.”

Many Vixen athletes come from other sports, and the coaching staff trains them how to play football. Cil Winton (they, them, their) is a rookie with limited background in the sport who was grateful to have the support of Vixen staff and players.

“From coaches, to players who have been on the team from three to 20 years, everyone is welcoming,” Winton says. “There’s never any judgment of what you look like or who you are. We’re a team of all shapes, sizes, colors, and identities. We come together, put our helmets on, and we are one team — from coaching staff to the rookies like me.”

As a non-binary individual, Winton feels welcomed, appreciated, and loved by the team. Formerly, the Vixen team was a member of the Independent Women’s Football League, which did not allow trans individuals to play. The team switched allegiances to the Women’s Football Alliance in order to allow trans players to join.

“Body image is represented well, and all bodies are successful. No body is viewed as ‘wrong,’ like it is in society,” Brown says. “We support positive body image and strong relationships between players. A lot of them use the term ‘home’ to describe the team.”

“It would be awesome if we could live in a world at some point where it doesn’t matter who or what you are,” says Winton, who hopes individuals will continue breaking barriers. “Talent should be measured by the size of your heart, and not your parts.”