What do you get when you cross a football player with a singer/songwriter? The answer isn’t the punchline to a joke, but rather, Chicagoan Sami Grisafe. A star athlete with the U.S. Women’s National Football Team, Grisafe has also earned the Chicago Music Award for Best Rock Entertainer. Add to this her team, the Chicago Force’s recent victory over the Boston Militia, and a new album, and it’s clear that whether you’re a football fan or a music lover, Grisafe is one to watch. She spoke with AfterEllen.com about training, handling pressure and opening for Chely Wright.
AfterEllen: You started out playing boy’s baseball. What were the challenges there?
Sami Grisafe: It wasn’t until I became older, that parents of some of the boys would make comments or complain about my presence and it was usually because I was starting over their son. I didn’t really have much adversity on the field with the boys. I had been playing baseball with them since age five, so I was just one of the guys. I’ve been thinking a lot about young girls, like Maddy Paige Baxter who are not being allowed to play tackle football simply because they are female. As someone who started playing on “boy teams” over a decade ago, I can tell you we made it work. Those boys became my brothers and we remain close today. In fact, a fellow teammate from my high school team recently gave an interview for an article about me and it shows that the boys will support you once you win their respect. When you dedicate yourself to a football team, you become family.
AE: What initially drew you to football?
SG: I really was attracted by the discipline required, the idea that everyone had to go through the same hell together. The bond that it built was unlike anything I had experienced.For me, there is nothing better than people collectively achieving a goal in the face of adversity.
AE: What does your training schedule entail?
SG: Because all of us have day jobs, the team’s scheduled practices are only 3 times a week in the off-season and 2 times a weeks during season. Everything is expedited in women’s football. The first couple months of each year are dedicated to teaching the game and fundamentals. Although the number of women who have experience on the gridiron is growing, the majority are still Division I college athletes from different sports. As the season progresses, we are on a fast track of trial and error, finding our groove as a unit, our strengths and weaknesses. This year I did a lot of work in the gym and on the field with weights and agility exercises. Also, I spend a lot of my own time watching film and training my mind and eyes for making reads. Making the right read is as important as being able to throw the ball.
AE: Have you ever felt pulled between football and music?
SG: Absolutely, but I have been lucky enough to have very understanding people on either side. They know each are equally important to me and their support is the only way I have been able to juggle both.
AE: Tell us about the documentary you’re featured in.
SG: Tackle Girls is an inside look at the experience of female football players. More specifically, it tells the story of the women on the 2013 U.S. national team including our trials and triumphs and our battles on the field and off, as women playing the last “good-ol’ boy sport.”
AE: How would you describe your music?
SG: Provoc rock: provoking, provocative rock music. Bruno Mars meets Janis Joplin.
AE: Who are your influences in sports and in music?
SG: Joe Montana had a huge influence on me when I was a kid and I still look up to him. Not only was he a great QB on the field, he had great character and was a good person. Music, I love the performance style of Janis Joplin, Adam Duritz and Freddy Mercury and the songwriting of Ani DiFranco, Bob Dylan and Dave Grohl.
AE: You’ve opened for Chely Wright. What was that like?
SG: It was an honor. Chely Wright is such a kind, gentle, talented woman. It was inspiring to open for an artist who displays such courage. It was also an incredible night for me personally because a verse to a song I wrote for my parents came true that night. I wrote the song, “Two Of Hearts” about my parents who were country singers and performed at state fairs, parties, and weddings throughout southern California. In the third verse of the song, the lyrics are: “A few years ago I do recall/My ma and daddy came/To a sold-out show in Chicago/People screamin’ out my name/And before I stepped onto the stage/My folks gave me advice/Go and get ‘em/This is livin’/Honey music is your life.” That night, the show was sold out and my parents were there. Now every time I sing that song I will think of that night.
AE: What do you do to take care of your voice?
SG: I just recently started caring for my vocals in a more disciplined way. I’d like to be performing for the rest of my life, so I have become better about preservation. I stopped smoking and don’t drink as much as I did in the past, I do vocal exercises every day and like football, I don’t do anything really intense before a proper warm-up.
AE: Do you ever find yourself mentally writing a song when you’re on the field? If not, what activities other than actually physically writing are part of your writing process?
SG: No, I can’t say I have. My head has a lot of things clinking around during the game. As a quarterback, I have to stay focused. My writing process varies, but usually when I am in the zone, I have to stand and end up pacing around until I find the right lyrics.
AE: You both sang the national anthem for and played in the same high stakes game. How did you handle the duel pressure?
SG: I just focus on the details of each task at hand. If I worry too much about the outcome, I will fall short. For the anthem, I just thought, “tell the story honestly.” During the championship game, my focus was on each play, making the reads and the mechanics of every move.
AE: What’s your favorite song off the new album and why?
SG: They’re like my children, so it’s hard to claim a favorite.The title song from the album, “Atlantis” is important for me right now. It’s a duet between myself and Shannon Nicole, a former Universal Republic artist based in L.A. It’s one of the only love duets I know between two women. I’m very committed to supporting the fight for marriage equality and the message behind “Atlantis” is about two women overcoming obstacles and ending up in a better place, together.