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Skyler Espinoza Feb 6, 2024 10:35:50 AM 7 min read

The Best Football Players You've Never Heard Of

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Source: Women's National Football Conference

You probably didn’t know that women have played football, yes football, not soccer, in the United States for almost 100 years. But while women have played, and will continue to play this brutal game, they don’t only have to fight for inches on the field. American football is so tied up in the masculine American identity that people still doubt the viability, and sometimes even appropriateness, of women in football: on the field or the sidelines.

 

Title IX does not protect the right of women to play football because of a little known “contact sports'' exception clause. It reads that “...members of the excluded sex must be allowed to try out for the team offered unless the sport involved is a contact sport." There are no rules forcing football to change in the United States, and very few men motivated to create that change. 


Yet still, women play. They play the game, analyze and coach it. Women play flag and full tackle football, in their own leagues, on Team USA and all over the world. Women work full time jobs and coach on the weekends, they play in rec leagues and farm leagues and the big leagues. And the women who work to make these paths through football a reality work overtime to provide opportunities no one will give them. 

Of course, we all know the most famous woman in football: our queen Taylor Swift. But do you know these women who walked so Taylor could run to her boyfriend in her cute lil Chief’s jacket? Read up on the football royalty that we are lucky to have as members of our Parity community, and help us celebrate them as they pioneer, on and off the field. 

 

Odessa Jenkins

Odessa-Plano-Magazine-pic-Jenn-Shertzer-OdessaSource: Jennifer Shertzer

 

"This is what's going to be next for a long time.”

 

It’s hard to overstate what a titan Odessa Jenkins is in women’s football. At 72-2, she is the winningest Head Coach in women’s tackle football history. She is a Hall of Famer, a 7x National Champion, a 2x USA Football Team captain, and a 3x Team USA Gold Medalist. 

Not only has she had incredible success as a coach and an athlete, but she has dedicated her career to making football more accessible to women and girls all over the country. She is the CEO and founder of the Women’s National Football Conference (WNFC), which is made up of 16 teams and over 900 athletes. It is a revolutionary league, and a space where the best football in the country is played. Jenkins’ long term dream is to elevate the league so its members receive all of the respect and resources afforded to male football players.

She is also the CEO of Bonfire Inc, a talent accelerator for rising women in the workforce. On and off the field, Jenkins is disrupting the status quo and making it possible for women to be at home in spaces they were previously denied access to. 

 

 

Liz Sowers

365408451_1351165868808714_5019565172481245253_nSource: Liz Sowers

 

“Right now I work to play football so that someday, some little girl will be able to play football for work. I may not see the day when I can play, and get paid, but someday…someday she will. I play for her.”

 

Liz Sowers is another force of nature in the football scene, both as a coach and a player. She is currently in her fourth season as the head coach of the Ottawa University’s women's flag football program. Under her leadership, the Braves have an overall record of 48-4 and a KCAC mark of 22-0, with 3 NAIA Women's Flag Finals Championships to boot.

During her “free” time, Sowers plays quarterback for the Kansas City Titans in the WNFC. She’s been First Team All-American, led the country in receiving yards and touchdowns, all while working a full time job and staying close with her family. She was also a member of Team USA’s flag football squad in 2016, 2018, and 2021, and was also a member of the Sevens Rugby team in 2014.

Sowers’ favorite part about football is that there is a place for everyone on the field: “...it is the only place in society where you can look at girls of all shapes and all sizes, and say I NEED everyone of you. WE need you. You are important.[...] Society tries to tell us we need to be this certain way. Football does the opposite. Football says the recipe for success = just a little bit of everything.”

 

 

Jennifer King

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Source: Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team

 

"It's really important right now to be a good representative, what I didn't have growing up. I didn't have anyone that looked anything like me working. To be able to see that, I think, is big. It's super cool to be a part of this."

 

While there are trailblazers paving the way for women to have their own league, Parity also celebrates game changing women changing the men’s game. Jennifer King just finished her third full season coaching in the NFL. She is the assistant running backs coach with the Washington Commanders, a job she was promoted to following the 2020 season. When she got that call, King became the first African American woman to serve as an assistant position coach in the NFL. Ever.

King also has experience as a player. She was a seven-time All American quarterback and wide receiver for the Carolina Phoenix women's tackle football team from 2006-17. King says that her 14 year playing career gave her some “instant credibility” walking into rooms. But despite being such an outstanding player, King didn’t see a way forward for her in coaching football at first. There wasn’t anyone who looked like her coaching the game. Instead she became a basketball coach and brought her team to a national championship, earning herself coach of the year. Despite loving basketball, football was always her true love, and she didn’t want to live with regrets. She said she decided to bet on herself and risk everything to make the leap to the NFL.

The league is better because women like Jennifer King take those huge risks, and we couldn’t be more inspired by her bravery. 

 

 

Lois Cook

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Source: Lois Cook

 

“It may be well beyond my time of playing but one day, young women can aspire to be professional players because of the strides that we are making today.”

 

Lois Cook is a professional football player, an advocate for women’s sports, a TV host, a content creator and so much more. Cook is the living and breathing manifestation that women can do it all, even as she works to create a future in football for women who don’t want to do it all.

Growing up, Lois dreamed of being the first woman to play in the NFL, but as she grew up she started to put that dream to rest. However, her love of the game never wavered. Cook says that at school in Atlanta, she was never without a football. She says she played catch with friends and strangers, creating friendships around the game that is so close to her heart. She says, “At one point while walking down the promenade, a security guard pulled me aside and actually recruited me as the starting quarterback of the Atlanta Leopards. Can you imagine my excitement?!”

The rest is history. Cook is now a wide receiver on the DC Divas, where she has played on and off since 2004. She is now an incredible content creator and TV personality along with being a fierce presence on the field. She says that football challenges her with every play, every day. She loves defying social expectations and creating pathways for the next generation of strong female footballers. It takes an incredible athlete to work within the game and work to change it at the same time, but Lois Cook takes it all in stride: with her cleats on and her stilettos in her bag for tonight. 

 

 

 


About Parity
Minority-founded in 2020, Parity's mission is to close the gender income and opportunity gap in professional sports. By developing high-impact collaborations between brands, professional women athletes and their fans, Parity has proudly put more than $3.5 million in the pockets of women athletes, attracting dozens of brands to the movement in the process. The platform offers connections to more than 1000 women athletes from 75+ sports, including well over 200 Olympians and Paralympians. For more information on how to tap into the rapidly rising influence and popularity of women athletes, visit https://paritynow.co or follow us on InstagramLinkedInFacebookX (formerly Twitter) and Threads

 


 

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Skyler Espinoza

Skyler was a DI rower and coach at Columbia and Stanford Universities, and now is a Team USA athlete as a guide for a visually impaired cyclist. She is a world championships medallist, and a 2x Parapan American champion. You can read her blog about women in sports at empowerwomensports.wordpress.com, and follow her on Instagram @skyler.espinozaa.