Meet Your Militia: Niko (#18, DL)

Niko in the center, gameday captain. Credit: Barry Millman, Threepairs Photo. © Boston Militia,
Niko in the center, gameday captain.
Credit: Barry Millman, Threepairs Photo. © Boston Militia.

For a Japanese translation of this introduction, please click here. Many thanks to my friend Catherine for taking the time to do that; it’s greatly appreciated. Niko chose to answer her interview questions in English, so her answers appear below as they were written.

This is the first Meet Your Militia that I have ever begun with an apology, but it’s necessary. Niko sent me back the responses to her interview questions days ago, but every time I sat down to write this introduction, I found myself unable to do it. The words wouldn’t come and I didn’t know why. So I read and re-read the articles that told her story, like this one. And I thought. And I didn’t write.

And then I pulled up old Youtube footage of Super Bowl XXXII, the 1998 game that was such a catalyst for Niko. I watched Terrell Davis talk about that game fifteen years later. And I thought. And I still didn’t write.

And then for some reason, as I was looking through game photos to find ones for this post, I suddenly knew why I was having so much trouble writing it. If there’s something I don’t really care about, I can write about it pretty easily (’cause who cares?). If it IS something that I care about, I can usually write about it pretty easily because I have a lot to say about it. But if it’s something that I really care about, deeply and strongly and in my heart, any words I try to use are not enough. It feels like I’m not doing the subject justice.

So apparently the way I deal with that is to read internet articles and watch Youtube until I get over myself and start talking, which I am doing now.

As written in the Japan Times article linked above, Noriko Kokura – Niko to her family, friends and teammates – grew up in Japan, and struggled throughout her childhood and adolescence with a variety of maladies which eventually led her to the point of planning suicide. But on the day she had decided to take her own life, something about that Super Bowl game, a meeting between the Broncos and the Packers in which one player was afflicted with, acknowledged and ultimately powered through his own health problems – and rallied his whole team in the process – something about that game resonated with Niko like nothing else had.

And here’s the thing: she didn’t just become a devotee of Terrell Davis, or a rabid Broncos fan or something like that. She decided she wanted to play tackle football.

There are people who like to play football. There are people who love to play football. And then there are some people who live to play football. That last group? Niko’s in there. Read below about her level of devotion to this sport and then try to tell me that she could find the same thing playing soccer or softball. Please understand that this is not a knock at soccer or softball at all – I don’t see tackle football as a better sport, just as a very different one. And I think that there are girls and women who can benefit from playing it in a way that is unique to it and it alone.

Without getting too daytime talk show-y on you, your Militia Cheerleader has had struggles of her own in her past. Lots of us have, and we all know someone (whether we’re aware of it or not) who at some point had to make a very real choice about whether to stay here or check out. Making the decision to stay requires a strength that I don’t have words for, and every person has to find that strength somewhere. For Niko, it was the literal strength required to smash into people and get smashed into – surrounded by likeminded women who also drew strength from playing that game.

When I hear some of the criticisms of women playing tackle football – the people who think the sport is a joke, or has no real right to exist – I hear them saying that we don’t deserve the opportunity to gain strength like that. I hear them denying girls the chance to find out how badass they can be on the field. I hear them mocking something that I have personally known to change people’s lives – and in at least one case, save it.

Niko says "Nope!" to that play.
Niko says “Nope!” to that play.
Far from the chair that she sat in sixteen years ago on the other side of the world when she first felt the spark to play football, Niko is now one day away from potentially attaining the greatest achievement currently possible in women’s tackle football: a National Championship in the United States. As someone who, these days, is impressed with myself if I manage to return my kids’ library books on time, my mind boggles at what all it took to get from that start to this finish. But now I want to let Niko tell us about it; I’ve talked enough.


What does playing football provide for you that you weren’t able to find before? Is it something physical? Emotional? Social? A combination of those things?

Football provides me everything to live my life. I just really love football; I love everything about it. When I hit people, I feel proud to have done my job. I literally have made football my life: I move to the US six months a year to play with the women here, and save money the other six months while working in Japan.

You have the third highest number of tackles for the Militia this season, but we’ve also seen you on offense and special teams. Which is your favorite position to play?

My favorite position is defensive line, running back AND long snapper – I can’t choose! ☺ I love being on both sides of the ball.

Niko on the carry! Credit: Barry Millman, Threepairs Photo. &copy Boston Militia,
Niko on the carry!
Credit: Barry Millman, Threepairs Photo. &copy Boston Militia,
Is there a difference between the way that women’s football is perceived in Japan and in the United States?

Yes. In Japan there is a small number of teams, with very little organization. The women who play do not get a lot of respect. But here in America, there are a lot of women, a lot of teams…and more competition. There are a couple of leagues to choose from, and the women get more respect from the fans here. I give my life to play here, especially for the Boston Militia specifically!

What is something that’s made you feel supported as a Militia player?

When I saw my supporters at the Dilboy stadium, I can hear their cheering voice and I can see their smiles and their handmade flag and Japanese national flag. They make me stronger and I’m very happy.

Most my Japanese supporters lives in Japan and California, so they can’t come to Militia game but they’re always cheering and praying for me. I always appreciate it. I want to make them smile and positive mind at the game.

Thank you all my supporters! ☺

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What would you like to see happen next for women’s tackle football?

Bigger crowd turnout, games carried on TV and Militia scores reported regularly in newspaper, these will be all great for us. For these we have to show people that we can play hard and smart. We have to provide people great football games. If we can do these, people will like women’s tackle football more.

And I would like to see that all women’s tackle football players can get salary.

Imagine that you started the Noriko Kokura Football School for Girls. What would some of the classes be? (You’re Stronger than You Think? Introduction to Victory Dances?) How do you think girls could benefit from this?

heartFootball for Life, Love of Football, Football Basics 101. How is this?

I hope they can learn about positive thinking, importance of effort and how to enjoy life through my football class. And I hope everybody have a happy life! ☺


めったにこの誌に謝罪を綴ることは無いのですが、今回は必要とします。ニコは何日も以前にお送りした質問にたいして回答を返してくれました。しかし、どうしても彼女を紹介するこの記事を書くことができませんでした。なぜか適切な言葉がなかなか出てきませんでした。彼女についての様々な記事を読み返し、幾度も試みましたがダメでした。

次にニコがアメフトに夢中になる切っ掛けとなったスーパーボウルXXXIIをYouTubeで観てみました。そしてブロンコスのスターRBのTerrell Davisがあの試合について15年後に語るインタビューも聞き、改めて書こうとしましたが、やはり無理でした。

その後、この記事で使える写真に目を通していましたら、なぜこの作業がこれほど困難である理由に突然と気がつきました。さほどに気にしないことについてですと自分は記事をすらすらと書けます。また、逆に好きで興味を持っていることについては知識も豊富ですので、これまた楽に書けます。でも情熱的に、また心から真に愛することについては如何なる言葉でも相応しく表現ができないのです。どうしてもまさに「言葉足らず」になるのです。

このような状況に陥った時、ネットで表題についての様々な記事をむしゃくしゃに読み、同じくYouTubeを観まくります。今回も例外なくそうしました。

上記のリンクでThe Japan Timesが紹介するとおり、小倉典子(愛称「ニコ」)は日本で生まれ育ち、自殺行為にまで追いつめられる苦しい生い立ちを体験しました。しかし、あの日のブロンコス対パッカーズのアメフト優勝決定戦は彼女に決定的な影響をもたらしました。その試合を通じてたった一人の選手が自分が抱える重い健康問題を乗り越え、チーム全体を勝利に導く起爆剤となっていったのです。ニコの心はこの展開に打たれ、過去に経験をしたことのないほど強く共感しました。

その結果、ニコはブロンコス或はTerrell Davisの熱狂的なファンの一人になることにとどまらず、なんとアメフトの選手になることを決心したのです。

アメフトをプレーすることが好き人もいれば、プレーすることを愛する人もいます。そして、数は少ないのですが、アメフトをプレーすることが生き甲斐とする人たちがいます。ニコは明らかにこの後者に属します。彼女のアメフトに対しての深い情熱を知ると同じ姿勢で彼女がサッカー、あるいはソフトボールに挑むことはできないと即座に理解できます。これはこれらのスポーツの批判ではないのです。アメフトのほうが優れたスポーツと位置づけているのではなく、ただ異なるのです。そしてアメフトしか女性にもたらすことができない特別な要素を抱えているのです。

筆者も読者の多くの方々と同様に過去に様々な苦労を体験してます。ある場所に留まるべきか、退くべきかの大きな決断に迫られる状況におかれたことはあるでしょう。留まるという選択は異常な力を要することがありますが、これこそが人間の「底力」ではないのでしょうか?ニコにとっても例外ではなく、まさしく身体と心の「底力」を見出し、アメフトに体当たりしていったのです。

アメフトをプレーする女性に対して、女性はあのような力を得る機会を与えられるべきではないとの批判をよく耳にします。フィールドで心体をぶつけ合うこと自体がいけないと思われているようです。しかし、アメフトは人生そのものによい変化をもたらすこともできます。現にニコはアメフトに救われたのです。

16年前、ニコは遠く離れた日本でスーパーボウルXXXIIをテレビで観戦し、アメフトをプレーするきっかけをもちました。その同じ彼女がなんと明日には女性のアメフトの頂点である優勝決定戦に挑むのです。世界の女性アメフト選手が夢に描く栄光にむけて。Click here to go back to Niko’s interview.

1 Comment

  1. Fun Tomi says:

    Yay Niko! Will miss her very much!

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