“What do you want to be when you grow up?”—the question we are all asked over and over from grade school to our least favorite aunt at every Thanksgiving. The common answers always being: a doctor, lawyer, nurse, flight attendant, or teacher. But, then there are the ones with the biggest and wildest dreams in the room—the girls who are absolutely fearless and believe they can be ANYTHING they want to be. Those are the ones who make a difference.
For years the NFL has been looked at as a male-dominated sport—100 years to be exact. Although it’s still considered a men’s game, little girls today have the opportunity to look up at the TV and see women in male roles as an NFL official, reporter, trainer, coach or agent and have a chance to grow up to be in the same position. The first NFL football coach, Jen Welter and female NFL agent, Amanda White didn’t have that opportunity as little girls, but that never kept them from being the biggest dreamers in the room.
“There’s not a day that I remember not loving football.” – Dr. Jen Welter
Welter remembers going to her first football game at a very young age and looking at the players thinking they were superheroes. She remembers her favorite game playing in the backyard was having her sibling hold up a mattress and run into it full-speed as if she were a superhero herself. She was always ditching the princess costume and putting on a football player costume. Her dream since day one was to play football.
As for White, she rarely missed a Cowboys game with her dad. She caught onto the game quick and soon became the one 2 feet away from the TV, arms crossed, yelling as if she were a coach—just like her dad. By the 8thgrade she had a dream and wrote it down. She wanted to work in football. Amanda listened to her classmate’s presentations on wanting to become nurses, doctors, farmers, and teachers. And then there was White, an 8thgrade girl who stood in front of her boy and girl classmates and confidently said she wanted to be the General Manager for the Dallas Cowboys.
Welter and White’s key to success was similar in the sense that they both ignored the negative comments and were constantly proving themselves to the men.
“If you’re good, they will want you.”– Jen Welter.
A memory that has been engraved into Welter’s head was when she told the High School football coach her senior year that she wanted to play football and how she firmly believed she could compete with the boys. His response wasn’t that she wasn’t capable of playing, it was that the men would see her playing better than them and she would embarrass them. And added that if they cheap shotted her he’d have to “kill” someone. It had nothing to do with her being incapable of playing, it had everything to do with her being a girl who was better than the boys and the boys couldn’t handle that.
A comment that White will never forget was when she was making new friends in college and discussing career goals with a guy. White talked about how she wanted to work in football and he was quick to say “Like what? A cheerleader?” The response only pushed her to work harder.
Fast forward, Welter is currently traveling around the country holding football camps for young girls who want to play football. After playing 14 years of professional football herself and becoming the first female NFL Coach, Welter’s passion is wanting to give back and open more doors for girls with the same dream she had growing up. She’s continuing to write books and share her stories so that a little girl or boy can grow up thinking a football coach or player can be a male or a female.
On the day Welter’s most recent book was released, she was flying to Massachusetts to visit with her sister. When she landed, she saw she had been tagged in an article featuring a 12-year-old girl being bullied for playing football–Quinn Miller. Quinn happened to live in the same town as her sister, so Welter made time to visit with her to assure Quinn that she isn’t alone. She taught her some new techniques and let Quinn show off her skills too.
What Quinn says she took away that day from Jen Welter, the first female NFL football coach in history, was “let your game speak louder than your gender.”Meaning, it doesn’t matter your gender, race, religion anymore—it’s how well you play the game.
Quinn’s mom who has been her #1 fan and supporter, Christine Miller said she couldn’t think of a better woman to mentor her daughter and is so glad Quinn has someone as powerful as Jen Welter to look up to for the rest of her life and help turn her dreams into a reality.
Meanwhile, Quinn’s story is going viral and has even reached Stephon Gilmore, one of her idols who invited her to attend a Patriot’s game. Quinn and Stephon share the same jersey number, #24 and as Quinn continues to go viral her hashtag is “#24strong”. The Kelly Clarkson show based out of California invited her on as a guest and will air January 7th. Though she’s getting a lot of media attention, the bullying hasn’t stopped at school for Quinn. But, it hasn’t stopped her from keeping busy wanting to be an advocate not only to cheer on other girls her age who love the game but wanting to put an end to bullying across the map.
Fast forward in White’s life and she is an NFL Agent for Day1Sports—an agency run by Deryk Gilmore, the same guy who gave a young college girl a chance at her dream years ago and has believed in her ever since. Prior to working with her, he warned her what the business was like, “You have to be comfortable with failing. Whether you win or lose, you’re my guy and I’m standing with you.” White stuck by Gilmore’s side through all of the ups and downs.
The career paths Jen Welter and Amanda White have taken have not always been easy and sure haven’t been pretty, but they kept going without growing up and having the opportunity to look up at the TV or on social media and see a reflection of themselves looking back at them.
“There will always be naysayers and doubters no matter what you do or where you’re at in your career – pleasing everybody should not be a goal. Focus on your end game, and if it’s not helping you get there, get rid of it.”- Amanda White.
Women are beginning to break the barriers that separate men and women in football but still JUST beginning. Little girls and women now have a voice across social media platforms that they once never had. It’s become a norm to see a female sideline reporter on the NFL Network, but still makes headlines when there is a woman football analyst on Monday night. Cameras still draw attention to the female referees and coaches in the NFL. Sexist comments are still being made. High schools and colleges are giving girls a chance to play football, but a woman playing in the NFL is still considered a crazy thought. And little girls wanting to play football are still getting bullied and afraid to go to school, but now have the ability to look up to women like Welter and White and many who give them some hope. It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go.
It’s women like Jen Welter and Amanda White and even professional male players like Stephon Gilmore who were once little kids with big dreams, who never gave up, who are changing the norm and showing other little girls to never give up and that they can dream on dominating in a male role too. And that once you have enough of those little dreamers, change can happen.