Andra Douglas’ Black & Blue: Love, Sport and the Art of Empowerment is a fictionalized account of her lifelong passion for football, struggles to find acceptance in a traditionally male-only sport, and the narrator’s eventual rise as quarterback and owner for the women’s professional football team the New York Sharks. There’s more however. Black & Blue explores family relations. It delves into how individuals respond to temporary victories and defeats. It dives deep into the marrow of a personal obsession fostered in youth to live with intention rather than having your destiny dictated to you. It isn’t a book that only women can glean inspiration from, though it is geared towards that audience – instead, anyone who harbors unrealized dreams can take away from this book a sense of possibility if you are willing to follow your inner voice and never be denied.
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Douglas’ story is, at every turn, the tale of someone who won’t be denied. She refuses to accept the roles cast on her from birth as a young girl growing up in the American South and, instead, looks to prove her mettle at every given opportunity. She distinguishes herself as a talented football player against larger and stronger male players and harbors dreams of one day becoming the first female player in the NFL. She never realizes that ambition, but her passion for the sport never wanes. The book chronicles her journey through college and eventual relocation to New York City in the early 1980’s to pursue a career in the arts.
It is a turning point in multiple ways. She acquaints herself through pure happenstance with a group of women playing organized flag football. Douglas displays great skills as a writer during this portion of the book with her ability to make those women come alive for readers as multi-dimensional human beings with an assortment of quirks and peccadillos. The WPFA is soon born and Douglas makes a fateful decision to purchase the New York Sharks while also playing as the team’s quarterback. There are numerous obstacles, however, she must navigate around and overcome both oriented around football and in her personal life.
The conversational style Douglas adopts for the book and short chapters make Black & Blue an easy read to digest. Douglas likely doesn’t consider herself a natural writer, but if the cliché about Southerners being natural storytellers is true, Douglas embodies that tradition well. Some aspects of the book are quite revealing despite the fictional veneer she applies to the narrative – she portrays her upbringing with affection and candor in equal measure, the misogyny she encounters along the way, but she seems to pull up short of full vulnerability.
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Why the fictional trappings? This is one of the central stories in her life, her passion for football and the avenue for empowerment it opens, so it is valid to wonder why she chooses to employ a fictional “stand-in” for herself in the narrative. She lets us into her family relationships a great deal and depicts occasional incomprehension from her parents regarding her football pursuits, she delves into romantic relationships and how they fractured, but we learn nothing about how her life as a gay woman informed her desire, if it did, to push boundaries in areas like sport. This is, ultimately, her book however. These are her choices and the lack of these aforementioned elements isn’t a fatal flaw to the book in any way. They are interesting omissions. Black & Blue: Love, Sport and the Art of Empowerment is a compelling read from beginning to end and will resonate with many.