Bethencourt Looks to Break Glass Ceiling With Big Hits

Photo Credit: Raksha Bethencourt

A linebacker is an imposing force on a football defense and in Florida, linebacker Raksha Bethencourt, a woman in a supposed “man’s game,” is trying to be imposing on more than just the field.

A 24-year old legal assistant and single mother described how tough it was to juggle all these activities in her life.

“It can be difficult some days,” Bethencourt said. “The hardest part is time management, being exhausted most of the time and not giving in to your body. I don’t have to get up at 6:00 a.m., I could easily wake up at 7:30 a.m. and still accomplish my motherly duties without being late to work. I wake up earlier so I can stretch, work out and get ready mentally for my day. If I can get myself up every morning despite being sore and tired, I can do everything else the day has to offer.”

But Bethencourt was not allowed to play football at first.

“I was only allowed to do ‘feminine’ sports growing up,” Bethencourt said. “Both my parents did not like to do anything masculine so I begged and pleaded to do weightlifting, rowing, wrestling, MMA, any of that kind of stuff was shot down, all I could do was compete in dancing or in soccer so that’s what I did.”

Bethencourt went through life playing soccer and dancing while also getting into modeling. Bethencourt balanced athletics and school along with raising her daughter, whom she had at 18-years old. But two years ago, everything changed when she watched a special teams play on television during a game.

Determined, she went out to learn as much as she could about the game. Running for four straight weeks to be ready for a tryout with the Women’s Football Alliance’s Orlando Anarchy. In the first step of a long journey, she made the team.

When she put on the cleats, she decided to put the dancing shoes in the closet for the time being as she realized what made her the happiest.

“From day one from the tryout, it was like I had fallen in love all over again,” Bethencourt said. “I used to think I was in love with dancing, and I picked up a football and that was it, dancing took the back burner I was like ‘nope I’m putting that to the side for a while.'”

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Bethencourt (center) during her season with the Orlando Anarchy. Photo: Raksha Bethencourt

But it was not enough and determined to make her mark, she decided to try out for the Orlando Phantoms, an all-male football team in the United Football Federation of America.

She was persuaded to go to the tryout by an unlikely source.

“I was sitting on the couch at my house with my head between my hands going ‘should I really go, like why am I going, why am I going to go, I’m just going to make a fool out of myself,'” Bethencourt said. “I ended up going because my daughter came up to me and she seemed pretty worried. She said ‘what’s wrong mom?’  and I was like ‘I’m just a little scared I don’t know how it’s gonna go.'”

With a few simple words, she was motivated by her daughter to get up off the couch and take the field and become the first woman ever to try out for the Orlando Phantoms in franchise history.

“She was like, ‘oh you’re gonna be fine mom, you’re gonna do great,”‘ Bethencourt said. “I was like ‘alright kid I am gonna do great’ and I put her in the car and I drove over to the tryout with her.”

When she arrived, though surrounded by men who were bigger and faster than her, she had only one thought in her head: she was there to get the job done and ignore the noise.

“I didn’t care that I was getting weird looks,” Bethencourt said. “I didn’t care that they were taller than me and stronger than me, I just had the mentality of if I could outsmart you, if I could outwork you, then I would have a spot on this team.”

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Bethencourt (right) during the Orlando Phantoms football tryout. Photo: Michael Torres

The hard work paid off as the team attempted to surprise her giving away numerous hints that she made the team until she finally caught on to what was happening.

Ecstatic, she picked up the phone to call her parents to tell them the news. Though not really fans of the idea of her playing, were behind her.

“I lost my mind, I think I cried,” Bethencourt said about making the team. “I called my mom and my dad and I told them, they’re supportive in their own way, they support me just because they want me to be happy, but they don’t necessarily like that I’m playing tackle football with a bunch of guys.”

Throughout her time and experience playing football with all male players, she does receive trash talk, looks, and all that she expected to get. But she shrugs it off and pushes forward.

“Trash talk is trash talk, I think that happens on any level of any sport,” Bethencourt said. “It’s not intimidating for me, it’s not scary, it’s just part of the game.”

Bethencourt’s vibrant personality and drive has touched not just the players, but team owner Michael Torres, who remarked on Bethencourt’s impact on the team.

“She pushes the guys, believe it or not,” Torres said. “She is very smart and knows the defensive plays. She at times tries to help the guys get their assignments right. The team is very protective of her but treat her like one of the guys. [Bethencourt] is super vocal during the games and sometimes I got to calm her down.”

The energy has caught the attention of her opponents, including West Coast Soldiers cornerback and gym owner Max Paul.

“Seeing a woman on the field is shocking. However, I look at her as just another competitor on the field. She wants zero special treatment or consideration so I give her that,” Paul said. “she shows players that limits do not exist. If you can play, you can play. Doesn’t matter the league or level. Go reach for the stars.”

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Max Paul (left) takes a photo with Bethencourt (right). Photo: Max Paul

Bethencourt’s biggest dream, other than possibly making it to the National Football League, wants to be a pioneer in the movement to allow children of any gender, race or creed to play one of the world’s most physical sports.

“Starting playing football with the guys was at first a personal challenge and once I started doing it I was like ‘man I can do it so what can I do with it,'” Bethencourt said. “My whole dream is just to prove to people that it doesn’t matter what you want to do or what circumstance your life may be in, you just gotta do what makes you happy and give it your all.”

Like east Los Angeles free safety Antoinette “Toni” Harris who recently appeared in a Toyota ad the night of the Super Bowl, Bethencourt wants to break the barrier and inspire everyone to grab whatever pot of gold they’re after.

“To me breaking that ‘glass,’ would be probably the biggest thing in my life besides having my child,” Bethencourt said. “Honestly it doesn’t have to be me, if it’s Antoinette Harris, I applaud her, if it’s Becca Longo, I applaud her, because I’m part of a movement, it doesn’t have to be me I just want it to get done so it paves that path for other young women or young ladies to learn about football, and have a chance to have a scholarship, and have a chance to make millions. Just like the men.”

 

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