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

Memorabilia from Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas to be displayed in Canton

Week one during the 2015 NFL preseason opened on a historic note. While the Arizona Cardinals hosted the Kansas City Chiefs at the University of Phoenix Stadium, falling by a score of 34-19, sporting equality took a historic and exciting step forward. With Dr. Jen Welter in her capacity as a coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals’ middle linebackers, signifying the first game in NFL history to feature a female member of a participating team’s coaching staff; there was another element that added to such a landmark game.

Sarah Thomas, the first full-time female official hired by the NFL was making her officiating debut in the contest. With history being made twice in one night, it was only fitting that the event should be commemorated at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. A flip card of the game was signed by both Thomas and Welter for display in the Hall.

In addition, a photograph of the two along with Welter’s game-worn coaches shirt (of white color with the Cardinals logo on the left) was also placed on display. Beaming with pride, Welter was celebratory on social media, while providing an inspiring message for girls and women looking to make their own dreams come true,

“It’s official, for woman the road to Canton starts with a white shirt…. As a woman who saved my first check of $12 women’s football, and paid dearly to play… A simple white shirt makes a profound statement! @profootballhof thank you for the honor. To all the girls and women out there, let passion, potential, & God’s purpose guide you, not simply a paycheck. That’s #HOF advice in life, not just football.”

Not only was Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians gracious in his assessment of Thomas’ debut, calling her “solid”, linebacker Markus Golden appeared on Arizona Sport 98.7 FM stating that Welter was a really good coach, doing a good job. Welter has certainly gained her own share of new fans. At the Cardinals training facility, fans have been eagerly looking to obtain her autograph. Having earned her doctorate in 2014, she is known affectionately by the sobriquet, “Dr. J”.

Of note, Welter and Thomas are not the only women to have made significant inroads in football this year. Broadcaster Beth Mowins was hired by the Oakland Raiders as their first-ever female play-by-play announcer. In years past, Amy Trask was a CEO for the Raiders, adding to their proud legacy of women in football. Adding to such a momentous hire was the New York Jets appointing Jacqueline Davidson to the position of director of football administration.

For Welter, a two-time IFAF Women’s World Champion that played over a decade with the Dallas Diamonds, football was not her first sport. Attending high school in Florida, she graced the tennis court, following with several solid seasons of rugby with the Boston College Eagles.

Having broken barriers as the first woman to play in a non-kicking position in men’s professional football with the Texas Revolution, she would also coach with the Revolution in 2015. A remarkable show of support must be credited to another individual with strong NFL roots. Former Raiders great (and Hall of Famer) Tim Brown holds the General Manager position with the Revolution and was in awe of Welter’s work ethic and ability to never give up.

The Hall of Fame recognition is one that is highly fitting for both Welter and Thomas. The proverbial icing on the cake for both would be their likenesses on a football card. Perhaps in the near future, Canton shall open its doors to female football players, akin to the Hockey Hall of Fame inducting female hockey players. On the field, Welter was part of an exciting generation for the growth of women’s football, one that featured the likes of Sami Grisafe, Liz Sowers and Donna Wilkinson, not just Hall of Fame athletes, but Hall of Fame people.

Although Welter has drawn comparisons to former WNBA star Becky Hammon, the first woman to serve full-time on an NBA coaching staff (with the San Antonio Spurs), the bigger picture signifies a watershed moment for women in sport. From women’s hockey players such as Hilary Knight, Lesley Reddon and Anne Schleper earning the chance to practice with NHL clubs over this past season to women’s baseball being contested for the first time at the Pan American Games, Welter is part of a group of pioneers that are not just building a new and exciting role for women in sport, they are subsequently building self-esteem and confidence for all women.

#jen-welter, #sarah-thomas

Arizona Cardinals represent newest chapter in Dr. Jen Welter’s remarkable career

Since capturing her second gold medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships, Dr. Jen Welter has developed a talent for breaking barriers and simultaneously inspiring others. Since playing and subsequently coaching with the IFL’s Texas Revolution, Welter has carved a remarkable sporting legacy, emerging as a pop culture icon.

As training camps begin in the National Football League, Welter shall make her presence felt. Hired by the Arizona Cardinals as one of seven interns to participate in a coaching role, she will be working with the inside linebacker corps, making her the first woman in the history of the NFL to serve as a coach. As a side note, she was joined among the new faces on the Cardinals coaching staff by Levon Kirkland, a recipient of the Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship.

AP Photo: Matt York

AP Photo: Matt York

Welter’s season as a coach for the IFL’s Texas Revolution earlier this year was one that mirrored another great accomplishment for women coaching in football. Former Lethbridge Steel quarterback Kessie Stefanyk not only became the first female coach in the history of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, she would prevail in her coaching debut.

Although seasons in all sports tend to be measured in terms of failure and success by championships, there was no failure for Welter. Even though the Revolution were defeated in the IFL championship game, denying Welter an opportunity to add another championship to her growing list of accomplishments, her landmark season represented a greater victory, one in which she proved that women are not only ready for the responsibilities of coaching in football, but can be looked upon as equals. It was the type of empowering performance that certainly made an impression on the Cardinals.

Making news headlines the world over, her signing with the Cardinals was covered from a range of media services ranging from CNN to Cosmopolitan. Not only did she receive an outpouring of support from those in the women’s football community, where she spent over a decade with the Dallas Diamonds, some highly notable individuals showed their encouragement on twitter.

From United States Vice President Joe Biden congratulating her, to women’s sports pioneer Billie Jean King proudly acknowledging this historic hire, there is a growing momentum behind Welter.

With segments of her press conference broadcast on the NFL Network’s popular program, Total Access, Welter was gracious in acknowledging not just head coach Bruce Arians for providing her with this opportunity but displayed class by recognizing the Bidwill family, who have owned the Cardinals for over 50 years.

Of note, the Bidwill family was the first to hire an African American woman (Adele Harris) to serve in an executive capacity in the NFL. Throughout the seasons, the club also helped increase the presence of minorities in pro football by hiring Bob Wallace as the first African American to handle player contracts.

During the 2004 NFL season, the Bidwill family featured the first NFL club to have a pair of African-Americans serve in the general manager and coaching positions. The acquisition of Welter only helps to extend their proud legacy of opening doors in football.

In the photo opportunity that followed the introductory press conference, Welter proudly put on the Cardnials helmet with a winning smile that was impossible not to notice, creating an iconic image. Afterwards, Welter lifted said helmet over her toned, muscular shoulders like a trophy, certainly a great victory for women in football.


Dr. Jen Welter among candidates for All Sports United Humanitarian Award

As Dr. Jen Welter continues to capture the hearts and minds of football fans with her historic appointment to the coaching staff of the Texas Revolution, another special milestone is bestowed upon the gridiron hero. She is among the list of remarkable sports heroes that are a candidate for the All Sports United Humanitarian Award.

In an admirable effort to recognize the charitable efforts of professional athletes (male and female), All Sports United is awarding a Humanitarian of the Year Award. Allowing sports fans the chance to participate in an online vote, the top ten vote-getters shall be recognized as the All-Stars of Giving.

With the last day of voting on May 15, fans may vote for three different athletes every day. Of all the athletes, one shall be recognized as the Humanitarian of the Year. The recipient shall receive approximately $100,000 in services for their favorite charity.

Recognized as one of the candidates on the ballot, Welter is joined by a remarkable group of female athletes. Among them (and their favorite charities) are the likes of Allison Baver (Off the Ice Foundation), Nadia Comaneci (Special Olympics), Cassie Hawrysh (Fast and Female) and Pam Shriver (The Pam Shriver Fund).

Welter’s favorite charity of choice is The Road to 777. Based out of Gilbert, Arizona, the Road to 777 employs innovation through collaboration. Looking to benefit seven foundations, the cause hosts seven events over seven months with the goal of raising $777,777 in contributions.

As a side note, any interested individuals can contribute online to their favorite athlete’s charity of choice. Through the Givkwik Fund, a donation can be made. Once voting for the Humanitarian of the Year has completed, all donations meant for the charity, such as The Road to 777 shall be combined and a grant will be given.

Looking to establish a health and wellness clinic in nearby Phoenix to treat brain injuries suffered by military veterans along with athletes, the Road to 777 also supports various causes. A listing of some causes includes: Girl Power 2 Cure, Rett Syndrome Research Trust, Triple R Horse Rescue, Hope for the Warriors, The Stop Abuse Campaign and the Navy SEAL Foundation.

Of note, Welter’s father served in the military, and she has honored her father’s service by participating in an indoor Army vs. Navy football game in Philadelphia honoring the military. In addition, Welter shall be one of the guests of honor at the Road to 777’s Women’s Empowerment Summit to take place on January 7, 2016 at Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino. She will be joined by the likes of Melissa Mahler, the CEO and Founder of ProPlayer Insiders and business woman Jeni Summers. Having inspired a new generation of girls to pursue their dreams, Welter’s legacy is one that continues to deservedly grow.

As Welter engages in the next chapter of her remarkable career as a member of the coaching staff for the Texas Revolution, likely the first woman to coach in professional men’s football, the recognition of her efforts as a sporting humanitarian is a glowing tribute. Although only one athlete can win the AUS Humanitarian Award, the bigger victory is the effort to spread a positive message about athletes such as Welter looking to bring betterment to the community.


Destiny Armendariz capturing hearts and minds of Texas football fans

Considering that football is a significant part of the sporting and social fabric of Texas, a new revolution is taking place on the gridiron. Girls are starting to embrace the game and make their own statement that they deserve an opportunity to play. As the barriers begin to crumble and break, Destiny Armendariz has generated a significant amount of media attention throughout the state.

In her second season as a middle linebacker and second string fullback for Creekwood Middle School B Team, she is the only girl on the roster. Gaining praise from her head coach Paul Hinson, she has quickly evolved as a leader on the field. Her coach has even told others on the team that they need to play more like her, testament to her dedication. Of note, Armendariz is the second eighth-grade girl playing football in the Humble Independent School District. Amya Anglin competes at the safety position for Woodcreek Middle School.

A significant source of support in her football ambitions come from her family. Theresa, her mother, is jubilant at her daughter’s success, who is only the second girl to play football for Creekwood Middle School. Drawing inspiration from her grandfather, she also looks up to her older brother, Emil Armendariz, Jr., a member of the football team at Kingwood High School.

With ambitions to continue gracing the gridiron at the high school level, Armendariz aspires to become the first female to compete at the linebacker position in college football. Taking into account her role model is Dr. Jen Welter, there is no question that such a dream could one day become reality.
Having played men’s football with the Texas Revolution, Welter has also played with the WFA’s Dallas Diamonds and the IWFL’s Houston Dynamo. Also a two-time IFAF Women’s World champion with Team USA, Welter is helping inspire a new generation of girls to play football. Among this new generation, Armendariz is certainly among them.

Of note, Armendariz had the chance to see Welter play with the Revolution, during their final regular season game. Held in Dallas, her entire family drove up from Houston to see the match. The highlight for Armendariz was the chance to meet Welter afterwards. The most heartwarming aspect of the experience was an e-mail that she sent to Welter, reciprocating the inspiration that Welter provided.

Welter was proud upon receiving the e-mail that she wrote about meeting Armendariz in her blog for USA Football. While it was a touch of class on the part of Welter, it certainly set a positive example about what it means to appreciate your fans. Should Armendariz follow in Welter’s footsteps and continue to break barriers, she will likely have her own fans sharing their stories with her, making Welter an amazing individual to emulate.

#destiny-armendariz, #jen-welter

Dr. Jen Welter adds to female football legacy with appearance in IWFL Title Game

In a year that has seen Dr. Jen Welter’s football career grow by a quantum leap, football fans at Rock Hill, South Carolina were ecstatic at the opportunity to see this legendary player in action. Suiting up for the Houston Energy, she competed in the 2014 edition of the Independent Women’s Football League Tier I title game.

Joined by Alberta Fitcheard-Bryson, who played alongside Welter with the gold-medal winning contingent at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships, it provided Houston with a fighting chance. As a side note, the two competed with the Dallas Diamonds in the 2013 Women’s Football Alliance national title game.

Competing against the undefeated Pittsburgh Passion, it was part of a remarkable showcase in female football. In addition to the complement of the IWFL All-Star Game, the weekend events were comprised of two other championship games. Including the Founders Bowl (the Tier II championship game), a 31-14 for the Madison Blaze over the Baltimore Nighthawks, fans were also privy to the third annual Legacy Bowl. The Carolina Queens would gain their third straight Bowl win with a 28-22 triumph against the Minnesota Vixen.

Over the last few months, Welter has established herself as more than just a sporting hero and an empowering role model for women. This highly educated, determined and distinguished individual was transformed into a pop culture icon. As the first woman to compete in a non-kicking position in men’s pro football, Welter’s tenure with the Texas Revolution captured the hearts and minds of sports and non-sports fans alike.

Playing for the entire season with the Revolution, Welter’s performance proved that women should not only pursue their dreams, but believe in themselves. Although she was not on the active travel roster for some of the Revs road games, her demeanor, maturity and team-first attitude were remarkable. Her 5’2’ frame resulted in approaching the men’s game differently, employing a willingness to learn, the sign of a character athlete. Despite the size limitations in the men’s game, meaning she could not be the go-to athlete she was in the women’s game, the support of team veteran Clinton Solomon contributed to maintaining her confidence and motivation.

Such a remarkable milestone was complemented by the opportunity to be the only female to compete in the Army Veterans vs. Navy Veterans Indoor Football Game. It was a proud yet emotional moment for Welter. Of note, her father Peter served as a medic during the Vietnam War. In addition to being the recipient of the Silver Star, he was bestowed with the Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal, the Combat Bridge Medal during his military service.

Contested at the University of Pennsylvania Class of 1923 Arena , video footage of her tackle in the game became an online sensation. In the game, Army rallied from a 29-28 fourth quarter deficit to prevail by a 43-36 tally. As a side note, Welter would also make an appearance at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, even appearing on the dugout with famed mascot, the Philly Phanatic.

Considering that Welter was not part of the Diamonds roster this season, female football fans in Dallas could not help feel that the team’s complexion was different without her. Suiting up for Houston validated the hopes of female football fans that she would come back and play in the game that she helped to build. Emotions also ran high for the franchise as it was Erica Criswell’s final game.

Despite the fact that the Passion completed their undefeated season in storybook fashion with a 41-7 victory against a valiant Houston squad, the outcome is far from relevant. Showing loyalty to her football roots, it was an event that indicated Welter will eternally remain a hero in female football circles.

The true winner on this championship evening was women’s football itself. From the presence of two distinct yet highly amazing football legends gracing the gridiron, Welter and Lisa Horton, the long-time quarterback who reached the fabled 10,000 career yard passing plateau, it was a landmark event which may serve as the launching pad towards greater moments to come.

#2014-iwfl-tier-i-championship-game, #alberta-fitcheard-bryson, #houston-energy, #jen-welter, #lisa-horton, #pittsburgh-passion