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.
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 www.MAKERS.com 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.