While referee Sarah Thomas, Dolphins owners Venus and Serena Williams and NFL Network personality Nicole Zaloumis have all shattered barriers for women in the NFL, another remarkable woman is making her presence felt. Hailing from Kelowna, British Columbia, Liz Panucci grew up as a Miami Dolphins fan.
In a world where women’s tackle football leagues such as the WFA, WIFL and WWCFL are giving women the opportunity to don the helmet and shoulder pads, this has not gone unnoticed by men’s leagues such as the NFL and the CFL. Recent initiatives by the NFL have shown that women are not only very welcome but very important.
Perhaps the most impactful initiative was for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. From pink socks, spikes and shoelaces for players and referees, along with pink pom-poms for cheerleaders (one Eagles cheerleader, Alicia Marie, discovered three lumps in her breast before the age of 24), the NFL’s reach and influence may be the catalyst to find a cure.
Also with roots in Calgary, Alberta, it only seems appropriate for Panucci. The city has served as the hub for women’s football in Canada. From the WWCFL’s Calgary Rage and the Legends Football League’s Calgary Fillies, many female sporting heroes are emerging from the city. Considering that Sexsmith, Alberta is the first region in North America to have a girls high school football league, Panucci’s love of the game is only helping to influence the next generation of female football heroes.
Despite a life-long love of NFL football, Panucci did not attend her first NFL game until 2010, when the Chicago Bears blanked the Miami Dolphins by a 16-0 tally. As she stated to canada.nfl.com, she was amazed to see the number of female fans during tailgating and in the crowd.
Seeing the devotion of female fans firsthand, it would serve as the catalyst towards Panucci starting NFLFemale.com in 2011. Having started as a place for women to talk football, it has grown into a social gathering that features female fans representing all 32 NFL teams.
This sisterhood of female NFL fans also features some notable members, including Aliya Jasmine-Sovani, a popular MTV Canada personality and the host of Play with AJ. With the NFL having launched a fashion line for female lines, Jasmine-Sovani is among the group of women featured in print ads, along with the Canadian representative for the line.
As NFLFemale.com allows female fans from all ages to share in their love of the gridiron game, Panucci serves as an editor for the site. When women write their first post on the site, she encourages them to explain how they first fell in love with the game and what it is they like about being a fan. A regular series of columns on the site includes titles such as: Latest and Greatest, Life Coach, It’s All Relative, Did You Hear, Speak your Mind and Football 101.
Features are abundant with the site as categories include Fan Updates, Fun, Media, Bios, Let’s Go Shopping and OurFavs. The Fun category is a virtual potpourri of enjoyment. With the obligatory Contest feature, there is also a section for Football Pools, Prizes, Games and even Recipes (for the ardent tailgater).
Of course, the Let’s Go Shopping Category adds an element of fun as it provides the opportunity to find the right accessory for any team. From stationery to team jewelry, tank tops and t-shirts to sophisticated spirit scarves, where one can truly wear their team close to their heart.
As the glue that holds it all together, Panucci’s passion for the game is very evident. With women continuing to have a growing impact in the world of tackle football, she is truly a pioneer in this magical movement. While one can only hope that the day will come that a female place kicker shall make her way to the NFL, it would come as no surprise to anyone if she was a fan of Panucci’s. She has truly scored a touchdown.