Chantell Taylor is Chicago born and made. Being from Englewood, one of the toughest areas in the city, gave her the tools necessary to be physically dominant on the field and speak her mind unapologetically off of it.
She grew up hearing sirens and gunshots every night having to avoid windows because of the gunfire. She got evicted as a little girl, lived in a house with no lights, and didn’t know where she was going to find her next meal. She embraced the struggle and realized it wasn’t a burden to carry but an obstacle on the road to success.
“Being poor in general, it made me want to become a go-getter, it made me want to go hard and not feel sorry for myself. It fueled my fire to be a better woman. It made me want to be somebody. If I do ever have kids, my kids won’t have to go through that. It was hard when I was living in it but now that I’m grown and looking at it, I appreciate every struggle because if it weren’t for those struggles I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.”
As an athlete, she ran cross country, track and field, played basketball and intramural sports at Maria High School. Despite women’s sports not being taken seriously on a public scale to some degree, she always knew that she wanted to be a professional athlete regardless. She was a big Dianna Taurasi fan growing up and she likes seeing Candace Parker play.
Taylor had someone that believed in her early on. Her grammar school principal Donna Christian showed her respect, believed in her and treated her like a favorite student. “From all of her insight and input on my life in a positive light, she always made me feel like I could conquer the world if that’s what I wanted to do. Growing up, Donna Christian had a big influence on me coming from where I’m from,” Taylor said.
She received a full ride to play basketball at Central State University and she ran into conflict with the head coach and teammates. She was a competitor and didn’t like the fact that she was going to be redshirted. Part of that also has to do with the fact that growing up, she was a sheltered, disciplined child. She wanted freedom, not more restrictions.
Tension between her and the team continued to build. She stopped going to tryouts and had a big argument with the coach in front of the whole team. After talking with her mother and grandmother, she tried out for the team her sophomore year to get her scholarship back and succeeded. She ran into the same problems a couple months later and made the decision to move on from basketball.
“I was feeling like I was losing the passion for it. I wasn’t feeling it anymore. When it got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t take it, I was honest with myself, with my coaches, with my mom, dad, and grandma and let them know I want to come back home.”
That very same day she came back to Chicago, what is now known as the Extreme Football League (X League), formerly the Legends Football League and Lingerie Football League, was holding a tryout for the Chicago Bliss in May of 2009.
With the Bliss, she was able to win four Legends Cups in addition to six conference titles.
“What I remember from the first championship is [Keith] Hac guaranteeing us to win every game and we did. We couldn’t be stopped once we gelled together and understood what we were supposed to be doing as a unit,” Taylor said.
Former Chicago Bliss head coach Keith Hac instilled the drive and helped her gain the knowledge she used to understand the game and become a better football player. After she understood what he was trying to teach, she wasn’t going to go off-script.
“Keith Hac is a very, very, smart man. [He is] very knowledgeable especially when it comes to football. I think he’s one of the best coaches to ever coach [the sport]. He’s good enough to coach on a professional level. The knowledge that he gave me overall was enough to conquer the position I was in.”
She added that one key thing she took away from his coaching is that with football and life everything is about progression. She uses that in her daily life. Everything is a progression to the next level of life.
While winning the championships and having Hac as a head coach were good things about playing in the Xtreme Football League, from Taylor’s perspective on the inside looking out, it was a façade. She spoke at length about the image that the league tried to portray, her view of Legends Football League chairman Mitchell Mortaza and how restricted the voices of the players were. In addition to that, LFL players had to pay a $45 annual registration fee, didn’t receive health insurance, would practice eight months straight,, and only play four games. Emily Kaplan wrote a piece in Sports Illustrated going more in-depth.
“…I never dealt with any disrespect on a personal level with Mitchell Mortaza. I never dealt with body shaming or image issues. That’s really what the LFL is about. It’s all about image and beauty. It’s not about the business of athletes,” Taylor said.
She had to witness other women in the league deal with mistreatment in addition to realize that people on the outside believed that the players were making millions of dollars when that was not the case at all.
When the Bliss were winning, things were still bad. Taylor couldn’t imagine what it was like for the women on teams that were losing. When she got her last championship and knew that her coaches were going to resign, there was no reason for her to continue to play.
“It’s a new era, it’s a new decade, we as women should be able to play football with our clothes on and get paid for doing it in order to be taken seriously. A lot of people know about the LFL. Some people think it’s entertainment, some people think we’re cheerleaders, I’ve heard a lot of different things that people think about the LFL. The women are real athletes and the women are very smart and have a lot of football knowledge.”
Now she will be a part of the New York Stars owned by Grammy-nominated artist Ja Rule in the Women’s Football League Association (WFLA). The latter organization is founded by Lupe Rose, CEO of the SHE Beverage Company/The SHE Brand. The WFLA plans to begin its inaugural season in the summer of 2021. See the statement below from the WFLA website.
When it comes to work, historically speaking, women have been paid lesser wages across all industries; 70 cents on the dollar in comparison to their male counterparts. The sports industry has acted no differently. Until now. SHE & The WFLA intends to pay all female athletic recruits wages consistent with male athletes of the same sport and skill level. The WFLA will not “shortchange” any of its professional league players. That’s WFLA’s promise. That’s WFLA’s commitment to the WFLA players.
Women deserve better, so SHE created better. Women deserve the best, so SHE structured the best league just for you. And if that isn’t enough, the WFLA will partner and or buy or build her very own stadiums across the U.S. dedicated to The WFLA and the women for all the teams.
Porter Medium: With your next opportunity in the WFLA, what do you believe you will bring to the New York Stars?
Taylor: Leadership is the first thing I will bring because I know a lot of women who are coming into the league with me who have won championships. I believe the main thing is veteran leadership. It’s important to find a leader that understands what’s going on with the game. Understanding assignments, understanding play-calling, and understanding the whole process of how the football world works.
I think I have the veteran leadership to be able to turn the locker room up and calm the locker room down. That’s my best asset that I feel I’ll bring to the Stars. I know how I play so I’m definitely going to be a dog on the field. I’m confident in that.
Porter Medium: What other opportunities do you believe the WFLA will afford you?
Taylor: I believe the WFLA will offer me the opportunities I was seeking and chasing in the LFL as far as exposure. My team is owned by obviously an award-winning rap artist that’s globally known. I feel like that will have a lot to do with us being successful as well. I see that other people in the entertainment world are interested in the WFLA and our team. I would rather go with somebody who I know is a real entertainer and has a real fan base as opposed to Mitchell who just has the money to make it look good.
Porter Medium: How far do you believe you’ve come from your rookie year to now?
Taylor: From my rookie year to now, it’s funny because like if the LFL or the X League, whatever they are, if they continue to carry on, blossom, bloom, and grow, I feel like the LFL was for little girls. The WFLA is for women. So I feel like it’s a completely different transition. Because at this point in our lives and seeing how far we have come as women, I don’t understand why we would continue to get exploited in a bra and panties. When he tried to switch us back to pants, he took us out of the pants because he wasn’t making the money that he felt like he wanted to make. It’s all about sex.
The way that they treat their players – even though all these women are grown in age, nobody can take a stand. Nobody can become a unit to go against the owner of the league to get what we are supposed to get. The league is practically dependent and relying on women that want to play football so bad because that’s the excuse that [they] keep coming up with. It’s football. We just want to play football. He has used [them] and [they] will never benefit from the sport and playing for him.
The WFLA is founded by a woman. I can’t see a woman that’s founding a football organization who wants to see us get misused and mistreated. Whereas the LFL, he just put things out to make it look and sound good for the world. …He doesn’t care about us. In the WFLA, we will be wearing full pads, real helmets, and making money as professional athletes. He said that the LFL is the most professional, fastest-growing, sport but it’s not a professional sport.
When we sign a
contract, we pay $45 and at the very top of the contract it says, ‘amateur
league club.’ It’s a club. He doesn’t consider it professional when he takes
our contract from us but on the internet portrays it to the world as if it is
professional. That’s what everybody thinks and it’s sad because we’re not even
worried about playing football. We’re competing with each other.
We’re competing with how we look; we’re competing with things that aren’t even about football. It becomes a whole issue of teammates cliquing up and not being a real team. Women are clashing with each other because everybody’s worried about the wrong things.
I’d say the WFLA is the transition from a girl to a woman. The LFL is [like] you still want to stay and be stuck in something that you know is not going to change. It’s already been put out there that Mitchell is like dealing with an abusive boyfriend in a relationship, hoping and praying that something will change eventually, and it never does.
That’s the hardest part about the LFL. I’m just ready to start something new in my life and project something more positive because they view the LFL or the new X League as the new era of women’s empowerment. It’s nothing less empowering about getting an e-mail from the owner of the league trying to manipulate your mind into believing that you’re not good enough to put on the uniform. A lot of girls are watching you and you’re their role model. I don’t have any children, but I have a lot of nieces. I would never want my nieces to look up to me for putting on a bra and panties to run around with a football. I feel it’s soft porn.”
Porter Medium: What motivates you to play the game now?
Taylor: Overall, I had given up the sport of football because I played in the LFL for a decade and people may or may not know that the players that are a part of the LFL don’t get paid to play and don’t have health insurance. The owner of the league is a very racist, disrespectful, demeaning man and everything is about his own personal [gain] and how he can make money off of us. We went through a lot as far as the time that we spent trying to sell tickets and promote the game.
The way we were mistreated, the world doesn’t see that. Only the people on the inside see that. From the outside looking in, everybody thinks that we’re treated really well, fairly and we’re some big-time professional athletes. We have to balance playing football, having normal careers and lives, being wives, mothers, or whatever [else] people have going on in their lives.
I’m just motivated off of being a dominant woman and growing up where I came from, I always kept in a lot of internal pain. The football field was an outlet for my frustrations, my anger, and what people didn’t understand that I was going through mentally and emotionally once I realized I could hurt someone without getting in trouble.”
Porter Medium: As a defensive lineman, where do you feel you’re most effective? In rushing the passer, stopping the run or both?
Taylor: On the line of scrimmage. I’m very effective because of how I look at the end zone that I’m protecting – In my mind, I’m looking at it as someone’s coming to break into my home. I’m going to do anything to protect my home. I look at my teammates as my family, I’m not letting anybody harm my family.
That’s my correlation to it. That’s why I play the way that I play. If I can stop it, I won’t let anybody [make a play] or get any yards on me if I can help it. I think that has a lot to do with how I came up because I’ve very protective over my loved ones. My family, people I care about who are close to my heart.
Porter Medium: What do you enjoy most about playing on the defensive line?
Taylor: I enjoy the most that I’m able to stop something from happening. I feel like I’m the first line of defense, so I get to do all the work. I like it like that because I’m a very independent person. So at the same time, I’m working with my teammates but I’m also working by myself. If I get the job done, I don’t have to worry about anybody else not doing their assignment. As long as I do what I’m supposed to do and follow through with it, then I know as long as I did what I was supposed to do, the people next to me and behind me won’t have as much pressure or slack to pick up.
Porter Medium: What do you think is the best part of your game?
Taylor: I would say how [well] I am able to see the ball. When I’m on the field, it’s like a dog [seeing] a ball. I go wherever the ball goes. It’s almost like the Matrix movie. Once I see the snap, [the game] slows down. [With] my vision, I’m able to go to wherever the ball goes and see wherever the ball is. I’m really, really good at [spotting] the ball and knowing what I’m supposed to do before it happens. That’s what I do. I visualize what I’m supposed to be doing before I do it.
Porter Medium: What do you still have to work on to be a complete football player?
Taylor: I don’t have anything I can point out, but I do believe there is always room for improvement. You can always get better in anything that you do in life. With that being said, that’s what I try to do. That’s how I try to live my life. Always trying to be better, always trying to improve. I don’t really know if I have a weakness on the field, but my mentality is kick the shit out of whoever’s in front of you. That’s how I think when I go into the game.
Porter Medium: What was your experience like at the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago?
Taylor: The experience at All-Star Weekend, I was a part of so many things. Wow, it was amazing. I didn’t even know that I was going to be a part of doing everything that I was doing. I was around a lot of A-list celebrities. A lot of prominent people.
I went to Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade’s tournament and they had everybody in the building from Russell Westbrook to the most beautiful African-American model in the world. So it was super dope being in that environment. I never imagined that I would even be around that caliber of people.
I worked on an event for Martell Blue. It was a Q&A where questions were asked to different celebrities, rap artists. I was able to go into this game room where athletes were playing NBA 2K. I was in LisaRaye McCoy’s fashion show. LisaRaye has a clothing line coming out in the spring or summer of this year.
So I was a part of that as a model. Her fashion show was a really cool experience. I did a lot of things that I did not imagine that I would ever be doing. The experience of being around all the people that I was around to kind of put me in the mindset like this lane is for me. I can be around this lifestyle. I’m not a fan or a starstruck person so that helped a lot too because when I saw certain people, it was just like, ‘wow.’ I’m more so shocked to be in the room with them versus being starstruck and wanting to take a picture.