Host country Canada victorious in opening game of IFAF Women’s Worlds

Originally published on Women Talk Sports


With Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations approaching soon, the national women’s football team engaged in a strong sense of national pride. Seeded number two at the tournament, Canada becomes the first country outside of Europe to host the IFAF Women’s World Football Championships.


Kicking off against fifth-seeded Australia at McLeod Stadium in Langley, British Columbia, the host country was looking to start on a strong note. Ambitiously aiming for its first-ever gold medal, Canada was taking on an Australian squad making their IFAF debut.


John Konecki, a two-time gold medalist (2010, 2013) with Team USA at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, was part of the training camp for Australia late last year. Taking on the role of head coach with Australia for the IFAF Worlds is Dr. Jen Welter, who played for Konecki on those two gold medal teams. Having also made history as a female coach with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, Welter adds to her legacy as a coach at the IFAF Worlds.


Such presence can only be matched by Canada’s Saadia Ashraf. Having served as Canada’s quarterback in 2010 and 2013, she is not in a head coaching capacity, but is part of Canada’s coaching staff, the first former player to achieve this.


The first quarter resulted in Australia assembling a solid defensive performance while struggling on offense. With Carly Dyck, a kicker/wide receiver from the Saskatoon Valkyries making her debut for Canada, scoring a 34-yard field goal with 8:35 remaining in the first, it represented the only points of the quarter.


As Australia continued to struggle offensively in the second quarter, Canada’s offense began to click. Olivia DeMerchant, who also plays for the national rugby women’s team, scored Canada’s first touchdown of the game, and the IFAF Women’s Worlds.


With 5:48 remaining in the second, quarterback Aimee Kowalski, who also won a Western Women’s Canadian Football League championship in 2017 with the Regina Riot, connected with Laurence Pontbriand on a 30-yard reception. With Dyck successfully making the conversion on both touchdowns, Canada enjoyed a 17-0 halftime lead at halftime.


The first half would see Australia gain only first down. Although the squad managed 13 rushing yards, its passing game was non-existent, not accumulating one yard as Casey Cubis made three passing attempts. Compounding such woes was the fact that Australia fumbled twice while Emily Malone punted five times. On the opposite end, Canada enjoyed 16 first downs, complemented by 83 rushing yards and 40 passing yards, although they fumbled once.


Looking to chip away at Canada’s lead, Australia replied with Kristy Moran. A star player with the Logan City Jets who has captured the Summerbowl championship, she would right the offensive path, breaking through Canada’s defense for a 10-yard score. Emily Malone was unable to convert the extra point attempt as Australia faced an 11-point deficit.


Less than four minutes following Moran’s touchdown, Canada replied as Julene Friesen managed a 13-yard scoring gain, quickly putting the game out of reach. As Dyck made her third conversion of the game, the third quarter ended with Canada enjoying an 18-point advantage, as the scoreboard reflected a 24-6 score.


With Maude Lacasse, the starting quarterback for the Montreal Blitz, at the helm of Canada’s offense in the fourth quarter, she was a perfect 3-for-3, although she did not record a touchdown pass. Instead, Canada added more points via a fumble recovery, with Virginie Roussel recording a touchdown with 9:34 remaining in the game.


A successfully extra point attempt by Dyck resulted in a 31-6 score, which would also stand as the final. With seven points on the day, Dyck was the leading scorer of the game. She would also record 289 yards on six kickoffs, the longest being 50 yards, while Alex Black, in her third stint with Team Canada, recorded 124 yards on four punts.


Gaining Canada’s Player of the Game recognition was running back Cassey Brick, who averaged 4.8 yards on 10 carries. Of her 48 rushing yards on the day, her longest was a 22-yard gain. Fellow Canadians Julene Friesen and Laurence Thivierge also enjoyed strong days, recording 58 and 33 rushing yards each. Friesen also recorded 15 receiving yards, leading all players in total yards from scrimmage with 73.


Kristy Moran was the rushing leader for Australia, with a respectable 41 yards, pacing all members of her team. Laurence Pontbriand emerged as the game’s leading receiver, managing 49 yards on just four receptions for Canada. Teammate Samantha Matheson had a game-high 42-yard punt return.


Statistically, Australia managed five first downs in the second half, while amassing 62 rushing yards, a significant improvement on their first yard showing. Although replacement quarterback Lauren Evans managed two pass completions, she only managed two passing yards.


With three more fumbles in the second half, the Australians must improve drastically on offense in the hopes of gaining a spot in the medal round. One key point of concern for Canada is the fact that the second half saw six penalties. For a club hoping to return to its third consecutive gold medal game, it will require more disciplined play, as potential errors can prove to be costly.  


The other matches on the tournament’s Opening Day saw two-time defending champion United States blank sixth-seeded Mexico by a score of 29-0. Great Britain, seeded fourth and making their tournament debut, pulled off the biggest upset, defeating Finland, the defending bronze medalists, in a 27-21 final.


Living legend Sami Grisafe literally reaches new heights

Working towards female football culturally relevant, Sami Grisafe is one of the sport’s avatars. A multi-talented athlete whose empowering legend can be traced back to her youth where barriers were first broken down, she brings broader attention to the game.

Returning to the Chicago Force in 2017, after a three-year absence from the game, it already represents one of the feel-good stories in the Women’s Football Alliance season. Undoubtedly, Grisafe’s career deserves a better ending.

A 2014 injury which resulted in tearing her ACL and Meniscus brought a premature end to her season, let alone her career. Despite announcing her retirement, there was always a competitive fire underneath, motivated towards a more fitting conclusion.

With speculation that this may be the last season in Chicago Force history, this gridiron swan song not only brings Grisafe’s glorious career full circle. The comeback symbolizes a tribute to a team that has meant so much to her.

Currently based out of California, Grisafe’s musical ambitions represent another amazing facet to her unique array of talents. In addition to the release of a song on iTunes called “All-Un-American”, she has also served as the host of a weekly concert series in Brentwood known as SunSeshLA.

Even when Grisafe resided in Chicago full-time, balancing football and musical gigs (which also included singing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field), she navigated between both worlds with ease.

Such navigation has taken on a whole new meaning in 2017 as weekly commutes from the Golden State to playing football in Chicago displays more than an admirable flexibility. It encompasses an admirable character, testament to her devotion to the game and teammates alike.

While she will also be using her time in the Windy City constructively for possible speaking opportunities and acoustic shows, there is a collective sense of happiness among fans and teammates alike to see her back in the Force jersey.

The weekly commute, with due deference, definitely places into perspective a key aspect of Grisafe’s amazing return to the gridiron. In any athlete’s career, the passing of time brings with it the need to make adjustments, understanding that such an outlook can bring with it future success.

Prior to such an eventful travel schedule, there was another journey for Grisafe, one that provided a defining moment. Visiting Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s most famous peaks, it was a profoundly interesting excursion that allowed for a chance to bring new perspective to an existing friendship.

Participating at the urging of her best friend, Linsea, they were joined by a small group of amazing people whose efforts went beyond any self-gratification. There was a collaborative sense of teamwork in the name of raising funds for the African Alliance of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

Along with a few days of heart warming volunteer with children at a local YMCA in Nairobi, Grisafe’s compassion established her as more than a sporting humanitarian. Throughout her musical career, she has graciously donated her time, performing at various causes, becoming a social activist through song. Her song in dedication to The Trevor Project is among such kind gestures.

The experience in Mount Kilimanjaro brought with it many personal lessons learned, it was a source of tremendous perspective. While Grisafe is a world-class athlete, a supernova of magnetism and allure who inspires so many, the essence of teamwork took on new meaning, definitely a building block towards Grisafe’s comeback in 2017.

“My journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro was an enlightening experience. During our final ascent, I endured a bad case of altitude sickness. I had to stop every five steps or so to gather my bearings and was the last one in my party to summit. As an athlete, this hurt my pride. Even now when I say that, it leaves me feeling uneasy.

The three-hour descent to our camp on summit day found me staggering all the way back to camp, falling more than walking and relying on the strength of my best friend to get me through.

The lesson I learned is grit can only get you so far in life. Sometimes, you need to have the grace to let others be your backbone. I think this is the true definition of a team. With grit and grace nothing is insurmountable.”

In many ways, Mount Kilimanjaro helped to set the tone for what is destined to be a memorable season. Two days before the flight, she was in contact with Force team president Linda Bache, verbally committing to competing with the Force this season.

Before the practices with the Force would even take place, the weekly flights would actually start with a journey to Orlando, returning to another key hallmark in Grisafe’s gridiron odyssey. Having starred with the United States national team with golden results at the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships, the treasured chance for a third gold medal in 2017 extends an incredible legacy that has shepherded the sport.

With the 2017 edition of the IFAF Women’s Worlds taking place on the Pacific coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, it represents the first time that they shall be contested in North America. Undoubtedly, the feeling of familiarity also brings with it a sense of home field advantage for Grisafe and the other gridiron heroes on Team USA.

The path towards being named to Team USA a third time, placing Grisafe in truly rarified air occurred in March 2017 during a very exciting week of football at the Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando, Florida. In a week that began with Team USA tryouts, followed by the energetic Women’s World Football Games, culminating with the NFL’s annual showcase of stars, the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, Grisafe was definitely in her element.

With the residual warmth of the gridiron, Grisafe’s motivation rose to the surface. Although there was an obligatory, yet visceral, reflection on the injury that abruptly shelved a promising 2014, there was a progressive feeling of renewed confidence.

“Being back on the field for Team USA tryouts felt like home in so many ways. I was back on the gridiron, a place where I’ve spent a lot of time since the age of 10. Physically, I was reminded of my time off and felt a huge responsibility to not only rise to the occasion, but improve upon my past performance.

I had to prove myself. I like to pretend I am a rookie at the beginning of every season, because points aren’t awarded for experience. Points are awarded for results. Statistically, I want this to be the best season of my life.”

In discovering that she was named to Team USA, it was the catalyst towards a sensational seven-month journey filled with momentum and motivation. Refusing to rest on her laurels, Grisafe is looking towards this opportunity as one in which the level of loyalty and steadfastness will be greater than ever.

Understanding that the rest of the world is looking at the US as the standard bearer for its sport, it only serves to increase the level of competition. Looking at the privilege of wearing the team’s colors as more than just an honor, but a symbol of determination, Grisafe is ready to set a positive example,

“When I found out I made Team USA for a third time, I was eager to get started. I was honored to be asked to represent my country and excited to play with 44 of the best football players in the country.

At the same time, I know the challenge that awaits us. Putting a cohesive team together in a matter of weeks is not an easy undertaking. What we’ve accomplished in the past at the Women’s World Championships holds no water as we enter this year’s competition.

As one of the quaterback’s selected, I have a responsibility to keep our team focused in performing to the best of our abilities and not get distracted by pomp and circumstance. Making the team is both a reward and duty.”

To a degree, there is also a tinge of sadness. As Grisafe looks to bring the Chicago Force back into the WFA championship conversation, a monumental mentor adds a different dimension to the international aspect of 2017.

Force head coach John Konecki was the architect of the Team USA rosters in both 2010 and 2013, leading them to the pinnacle of their sport. While he will still roam the sidelines at Force games, his international career sees him taking on a new challenge as the head coach of Australia’s national team.

Although Team USA has always been a collection of the finest players from rival teams throughout the WFA, there is definitely a distinct feeling of transition this year. Making their IFAF Worlds debut in 2017, the ambitious Aussies have enjoyed their own competitive league since 2012, definitely prepared.

Confident of a podium finish under Konecki’s tutelage, it heralds a new era in which the competitive gap is potentially being bridged, while helping to shape the future. Regardless of the international ambitions, Konecki and the Force players that shall compete with Team USA, including Grisafe, are true professionals, refusing to let personal pride get in the way of their first WFA national title since 2013.

“Coming together to compete for our country in the world games while playing against each other on separate teams, each pursuing a national championship, always adds an interesting dynamic.

For the first time, we will also compete against our coach. For the past two world championships, the head coach of the Chicago Force, John Konecki, was the head coach for Team USA. This year a new head coach was selected for Team USA and Konecki will coach Team Australia.

Throughout this season, I will work with Coach Konecki to win another National Championship while preparing to compete against him in the world championships.”

Regardless of the final outcome in these seven months, there is no question that Grisafe has the heart of a lion, a champion before the race has even started. The sacrifices made to compete on the gridiron only add a new aspect to her amazing sporting legend, a true Captain America.

Employing both maturity and acumen, Grisafe’s comeback represents an amazing ability to approach the future with confidence while refusing to be haunted by past failures or blinded by past glories. Gaining the opportunity to wear the jersey of the Force and Team USA, this is truly the final ending fitting of an individual who is more than just a world class athlete, but a world class person.

“I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Chicago Force organization. Without large salaries (or any salary for that matter) and medical benefits to draw top athletes to our sport, it can be difficult to field and maintain a team of talented players. Our management, coaching staff, and veteran team members dedicate so much of their time to both recruiting and skill development.

It is because of their dedication so many of us will get to take the field together wearing the red, white and blue. I’m looking forward to sharing the field with both my Force sisters and players from all the other teams across the country. When we leave for training camp in June, we are no longer individuals from select teams. We are one team with one mission.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

#2017-ifaf-womens-worlds, #chicago-force, #sami-grisafe

Welcome back Leanne Hardin to the Atlanta Steam

Undoubtedly, the greatest defensive player in the history of the Atlanta Steam, the return of Leanne Hardin to the fold is one of the most pleasant surprises as the season opener approaches. During the offseason, Hardin, a charter member of the franchise, had contemplated retirement, with dreams of possibly starting a family. She was part of a group of key player losses for the Steam, which included Jodie Nettles, another charter member, to retirement and Jenny Mac, known affectionately as the Skull Kid, to free agency.

Even in the offseason and during training camp, the Steam still held a cherished place in Hardin’s heart. Considering the close friendships made, Hardin was always proud to help show her support via social media, whether it was a word of encouragement for a player or when the club had a special event, such as a meet and greet, in the community.

Although the Steam have done an admirable job of tapping into free agency to fill several holes in its roster, there is no question that chemistry is an essential component to team success. Taking into account the loss of both Mac and Nettles, Hardin’s return was a much-needed boon. While the club still features elite signal caller Dakota Hughes, the reliable Dina Wojowski, winner of the inaugural In the Trenches Award, and MVP candidate Lauran Ziegler, Hardin’s return means that the club will have an anchor on defense.

Retaining her familiar number 20, Hardin shall definitely be a key figure in the Steam’s leadership core, as she has been during every season. A tireless worker who unselfishly works towards the greater goal of victory, she will definitely help set the example for the rookies and newly acquired free agents. While hardcore fans of the Steam were surprised that Hardin was not included among the league’s list of the Top 20 Hottest Players last season, there is no question that when it comes to determination, heart and loyalty to her teammates, she is in a class of her own.

Among multiple competitors gracing the gridiron this season that are also brave and honorable members of the US military, it is testament to Hardin’s status as a leader. In addition to Hardin, Katie Whelan, a nominee for NCO of the Year dons the Seattle Mist colors, while the expansion Austin Acoustic feature Tiffany Merritt. These three exceptional women are all worthy of the role model moniker, each embodying the values of respect, achievement and hard work.

Considering that the Steam are the most successful expansion team in the history of Legends Football League, the one accomplishment that has eluded the club is a championship, the ultimate pinnacle in any team sport. With a wave of expansion that has brought change throughout the league, and an arch rival in Chicago whose quarterback picture is still a work in progress, there is no question that this may be the Steam’s greatest chance to hoist the Legends Cup. As the arrival of Hardin only strengthens the team’s composition, further solidifying its strong team culture, there is no question that her return may prove to be the final piece to the ambitious championship puzzle, while bringing her exceptional career full circle.

#atlanta-steam, #leanne-hardin

Seven sensational seasons for Mist superstar Jessica Hopkins

As the Seattle Mist raised their championship banner in their 2016 home opener, it was an opportunity to celebrate more than just a proud milestone in franchise history. Subsequently, the opener allowed fans to witness one of the greatest athletes to don the Mist colors. In gracing the gridiron, Jessica Hopkins became the first (and only) woman in league history to play seven seasons with the Mist. With her family in attendance, the banner raising ceremony not only helped bring her career full circle, it was a shared victory for all the people whose lives she positively impacted.

A nominee for the 2015 Legends Football League Hall of Fame, Hopkins has proven to be among the league’s most popular players ever. Her hard work and dedication are only exceeded by her remarkable performances on the field. Such impact was evident during the home opener, which was also the first game in the history of the Austin Acoustic.

Quite possibly the most productive two-way player in Mist history, she would contribute 2.5 tackles while pacing all members of the Mist with 39 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. While one touchdown pass would come from All-Fantasy signal caller KK Matheny, who donated 100% of proceeds from fan jersey sales to Sienna Strong Against Cancer, the other touchdown reception was eminently appropriate.

Running back Stevi Schnoor, whose three rushing touchdowns were a game best, displayed some razzle-dazzle, connecting with Hopkins on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Known affectionately as Stevi Wonder, she has enjoyed the privilege of calling Schnoor a teammate on both sides of the border.

Having both played for the BC Angels in 2012, Hopkins and Schnoor would prove to be key contributors in a season that culminated with a Canadian Legends Cup win over Heather Furr and the Saskatoon Sirens. Fast forward three years, and all three were back on the same stage playing for the Legends Cup in Kent, Washington.

Furr, who had won a pair of Legends Cup titles in 2013 and 2014 with the Chicago Bliss was looking for a third straight win. Despite her best efforts, she was denied in her ambitions as Hopkins and Schnoor became the first women to win Legends Cup titles in both Canada and the United States.

After such an emotional win, Hopkins was pondering whether her gridiron journey would reach its pinnacle. After so many seasons of sweat and sacrifice, no one would have questioned such a decision. Luckily for fans and teammates alike, she has returned for another season, allowing her an opportunity to add to her growing legend.

While her superlative performance against the Acoustic proved that she still has plenty left to provide, a great start to what hopes to be a lucky seventh season, the chance to appreciate her greatness once again is a victory in itself. Complemented by the presence of former Mist players such as Shea Norton, Mele Rich and Christine Moore (who also played with the Angels) are all back home with the roster this season, it only adds to the jubilation of Hopkins and the dream of another title, which would make for a Sweet 2016.

#jessica-hopkins, #seattle-mist, #stevi-schnoor

Exciting rebuild for Los Angeles Temptation

After a visceral fourth quarter in the 2015 Western Conference championship game, one in which the Seattle Mist emerged victorious in an intense see-saw battle that saw the lead change hands several times, it seemed like the beginning of a downward spiral for the Los Angeles Temptation. With quarterback Ashley Salerno suffering an injury in 2015, and her decision to not return for 2016, it was definitely the end of an era for the silver and black.

Despite such setbacks, the Temptation have shown resolve, managing to overcome their quarterback deficiencies and remain in the conversation for the Western Conference title. With head coach Tui Suiaunoa leading the way; its roster may prove to be even stronger than the ultra competitive squad that nearly captured the 2015 conference crown.

Cynthia Schmidt hoping for big things with Los Angeles Temptation (Image obtained from Facebook:

Cynthia Schmidt hoping for big things with Los Angeles Temptation (Image obtained from Facebook:

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas Sin ceasing operations, a remarkable number of players became available. Among them, the Temptation found solid leadership and proven performers in the likes of Cynthia Schmidt and Kelly Campbell, who will be entering her seventh season of football. Both prominent at the defensive back position, they should solidify a defensive backfield that will need to find ways to nullify the Mist’s passing attack. An added bonus is the fact that Schmidt is one of the league’s most popular players, an ambassador for the brand.

There will be also changes as the Temptation and Steam see an exchange of players. Amanda Ruller, who actually won a vehicle on The Price is Right while she was a player for the Temptation, is among one of the new faces in Atlanta. Despite losing a player with All-Fantasy potential, the consolation comes in the form of significant depth.

Jayne Caldwell, who established herself as an elite signal caller in her native Australia, will now battle for the starting quarterback job with Michelle Angel, who filled in admirably for Salerno during her recovery from injury. Another player from Atlanta will make her presence felt in the backfield as well. Running back Nas Johnson provides the Temptation with another power back possessing tremendous acceleration and cutback ability, ready to bolt out of the backfield and punish opposing defenses.

While Carmen Bourseau, known affectionately as the F-150, deserves to be the starting running back for the Temptation, a role she has held for several seasons, the addition of Johnson alleviates the load of having to carry the running game by herself. Taking into account that Danika Brace, a former teammate of Bourseau when the two played for the Las Vegas Sin, is returning to the defending champion Seattle Mist, two running backs may serve as the key to overpowering the dominant Mist defense. Such strategy will be put to the test on April 24 as the Temptation host the Mist in their home opener.

On the topic of the Mist, the Temptation may have altered the balance of power in the Western Conference for many seasons to come with the acquisition of Kadi Findling. Having graced the gridiron with the Mist in her rookie season, Findling quickly made an impression. Earning Western Conference All-Fantasy honors (as a rookie no less), she joined a group of fellow Fantasy selections to compete in an All-Star Game in Guatemala.

Although Findling was considered a quarterback of the future for the Seattle Mist, she showed tremendous proficiency at the defensive back position. Such versatility makes Findling an important part of the Temptation’s plans to return to glory, seeking an elusive championship.

Despite an injury shelving her for a few weeks, Findling already brought excitement as she was also competing for the quarterback position in Los Angeles, in which one could make instant comparisons to Heather Furr. One of the greatest players in the history of the Chicago Bliss, Furr had that rare athletic gift to excel at both the demanding quarterback slot while making a significant impact at the defensive back position. Should Findling match Furr’s success, she may be destined to follow Salerno’s legacy and usher in a new glorious era for the silver and black.

#amanda-ruller, #ashley-salerno, #carmen-bourseau, #jayne-caldwell, #kadi-findling, #los-angeles-temptation, #nas-johnson

Pair of female NFL pioneers become real life superheroes

Both recognized among espnW’s Impact 25, Dr. Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas earned a unique honor. All 25 women recognized for their impact in sport were given the superhero treatment as Marvel Comics and espnW teamed up for a unique and exciting concept. All the subject of unique artwork, the remarkable members of the Impact 25 were depicted as superheroes.

Taking into account that both football and the comics industry were long considered male dominated industries, it was truly fitting that a pair of female artists worked on the renditions of both football pioneers. Welter, who became a household name for her impact as a linebackers coach for the Arizona Cardinals during the 2015 NFL preseason, was drawn by Natacha Bustos. As a side note, Bustos would also do the artwork for Diana Taurasi, another member of the Impact 25.

Sarah Thomas by Nicole Virella and Rachelle Rosenberg / Jen Welter by Natacha Bustos Read More: ESPN and Marvel Display the Heroism of Women in Sports |

Sarah Thomas by Nicole Virella and Rachelle Rosenberg / Jen Welter by Natacha Bustos
Read More: ESPN and Marvel Display the Heroism of Women in Sports |

Nicole Virella and Rachelle Rosenberg teamed up for the rendition of Thomas. The pencils and inks were handled by Virella while Rosenberg took the coloring duties. The first female official in league history, Thomas is part of an exciting time for the growing role of women in football. During the preseason, Thomas would officiate a game featuring the Cardinals, getting the chance to meet Welter. As a side note, Rosenberg also did the coloring for the images of Lauren Greenfield, Chloe Kim and Carli Lloyd, all recognized by espnW.

Perhaps even more unique was the fact that all depictions featured nicknames. Welter went by the sobriquet “The Ball Buster” while Thomas was dubbed “The Penalizer”. As all 25 women were honored at a gala in New York City, they were given a rendition of the artwork in a frame with a bow, a fitting tribute to the gift they provided sports fans and young athletes alike with their aspiring presence.

#jen-welter, #sarah-thomas

NFL Women’s Summit adds to growing momentum of women in football

Part of the excitement of the annual Super Bowl involves a week’s worth of unique and special events. From the “Taste of the NFL”, which features foods from every NFL market, to “The NFL Honors”, a new event is added, which serves to encourage and empower. The inaugural NFL Women’s Summit: “In the Huddle to Advance Women in Sport” is a superlative way to recognize the efforts of women in football. Whether it be through the groundbreaking IFAF Women’s Worlds, USA Football’s initiatives, or other groundbreaking moves, such as Dr. Jen Welter and Katrhyn Smith gaining coaching opportunities, not to mention Sarah Thomas as a line judge, the NFL is working towards setting a positive example of continuing to find ways to influence.

Considering that this year is the 50th Anniversary of the Super Bowl, the Women’s Summit holds an even stronger meaning. While the popular of football is without dispute, its commitment to recognizing the potential of women in football and sport in general, shows remarkable sincerity, reinforced by the attendance of NFL commissioner Roger Goddell. Hosted on February 4 and 5 in San Francisco (the host city for the game), it represented a remarkable gathering of some of the most prominent women in sport and society. Among such women, one holds ownership ties to the Miami Dolphins.

Recognized as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for 2015, Serena Williams and her sister Venus both hold an ownership stake in the Dolphins, the first women of African-American heritage to claim such prestige. Serena was on-hand as she was interviewed by former ESPN analyst Robin Roberts along with Condoleeza Rice, the former US Secretary of State who cheers for the Cleveland Browns. As a side note, Rice was the Chancellor of Stanford University when legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh served as the head of their football program.

Image obtained from Facebook

Image obtained from Facebook

An additional element featured a panel of five remarkable women in football. Currently with USA Football, Sam Rapoport, a former quarterback of the Montreal Blitz, has been instrumental in making the Women’s World Football Games a key event in developing the game and its talent. Joining her was former Dallas Diamonds superstar Dr. Jen Welter, whose accomplishments breaking gender barriers as a player and coach are legendary.

Line judge Sarah Thomas, who was the first female official in NFL history also joined the panel. It was an opportunity to reunite with Welter. During the presence, Welter had a coaching internship with the Arizona Cardinals. During a preseason game that involved the Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs, Thomas had officiating duties, marking the first-ever NFL contest to feature women in both a coaching and officiating role.

Two female executives with the NFL’s franchises in the Bay Area, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers were also part of said panel. Qiava Martinez serves as a Vice President of Premier Seating and Services with the Raiders. Perhaps more importantly, her role is a proud extension of Amy Trask’s legacy, the first female chief executive in NFL history, a role that she held with the same Raiders. The 49ers were represented by Ali Towle, a VP of Marketing for the five-time Super Bowl champions and host franchise for Super Bowl 50.

While the event featured over 250 guests, there was still accessibility as all facets were live streamed through AOL, whose site is a remarkable collection (and reference point) that chronicles how sport has transformed the lives of women. Fans are also encouraged to follow the Summit via Twitter and share comments throughout social media with the hashtag #inthehuddle.

Perhaps the most redeeming aspect of the Summit was the fact that the positive messages throughout extended beyond football. It was a forum filled with encouragement that not only showed the positive influence of sport in the lives of women, but its themes can also apply to the professional aspirations that women have.

#ali-towle, #jen-welter, #qiava-martinez, #samantha-rapoport, #sarah-thomas