With the introduction of women to the league, and coaches from other sports crossing over and needing to learn professional football’s brand of inspiration, coaching clinics lay the foundations, while defying previously existing walls.
There's probably no better analogy for breaking barriers than skydiving. Making the jump, taking the risk, and experiencing the free-falling freedom.
Florida Gators' legend Vince Kendrick was recently honored by his nephew, Brandon who made a memorial jump wearing his uncle's University of Florida jersey.
The first year the University of Florida allowed black athletes to play football was 1972.
Kendrick became the team's first black captain in 1973 and after graduation, was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons as one of the first black players in the NFL.
He went on to score the first touchdown ever for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Read more about this extraordinary man and his legacy...
Released by the NY Giants earlier this year, running back Rashad Jennings took home a trophy of a different kind, by winning a ballroom dance competition. Now a free agent, he will be touring this summer with the Dancing with the Stars troupe as their celebrity guest.
Reality show programming in general continues its trend of marketing to micro-targeted audiences, from ice road trucker enthusiasts to culinary contest fans. Whether you’re a Dancing with the Stars follower or not, there’s a compelling theme to the program. It celebrates the rewards of hard work.
In my experience, there is no better example of hard workers than football players. The good ones have a solid work ethic with a singular commitment to drills and practice, a positive mindset, as well as an emotional connection to the game and to their teammates. It is therefore not surprising that so many NFL players have been successful on the dance floor in this style competition.
While a ratings device by a major network to suit up athletes and a few Hollywood has-beens in sequins and try to teach them complicated choreography, I like that football players are breaking barriers in this manner by stepping from one spotlight, into another -- one in which they are just as vulnerable to possible failure, but one in which they could look foolish. When interviewed, none of these professional football players expected for their endurance and attitude to be as thoroughly tested as it was in this performance genre.
It is inspirational to see someone who has succeeded in another field, (or on another field!) challenge themselves in a unique circumstance. And to exhibit the bravery it takes to try something untried, on a national stage.
Their efforts serve to remind us that the only barriers that exist are the ones we place in our own path.
While the caveat about being “our own worst enemy” is a common one, I believe we can instead be “our own biggest champion”.
Not in a bragging, grandiose way, but with a mindset that nothing will hold us back. You must understand that passion generates the heat to burn through the most difficult obstacles.
For the past eight or so months, we’ve spotlighted people who have broken barriers -- some earth-shattering.
We’ve celebrated the indelible contributions of icons like Jackie Robinson, and people like Tim Tebow who stepped out of a comfort zone to attempt a deceptively difficult game; not to mention the poster person for women breaking into the NFL’s front office: Sam Rapoport, the new Director of Football Development.
With the introduction of women to the league, and coaches and players from other sports crossing over, and more people each day empowering themselves to go further than ever before, this month we want to applaud you.
Whether your successes are broadcast on a global stage or in your own heart, in sports or in your private reality - they are yours.
Often the barriers that need breaking are the ones we place in our own path. What’s in your way? How do you want to change your world? Fear not. What’s next?
“I wanna see you be brave.” Sara Bareilles
If you’re female and a football fan, there’s more to cheer about.
From the sidelines, to the broadcast booth, to the front office -- women are finally making consecutive strides. We celebrated the appointment of Sam Rapoport as the new Director of Football Development late last year, and then we rode that momentum into the Women's Career Development Symposium held last March just before the NFL owners’ meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.
Fortunately, this symposium was not a rah-rah session, but a concrete convention that focused on the education and development of essential careers for women, including exploration of roles in operations, scouting and coaching.
Women's NFL Career Development Symposium
While this grand gesture by the organization is welcome, the NFL has not assumed the mantle of a philanthropic, gender-equality-focused organization. The NFL is a business. One that has taken a long look at its fan base and demographics. Female viewership of games rose 26% from 2009 to 2013 alone, while there was only an 18% increase among men. More fans, more money.
With the consideration of women and minorities as viable sources of employees, it is key that the younger generation of football fans need never face the barriers tackled by their predecessors.
Is Football the Final Frontier?
Will the acceptance of women on the field and in the front office be the ultimate success? No. (The across-industry equal pay for equal work matter still looms as an obstacle.) This inclusion does however serve as a symbolic beacon, making the statement: “We did that, so we can do this now.”
One day soon, perhaps a discussion about trying to break into the NFL (or any other traditionally male-dominated industry) will be moot. Instead, there will exist positions requiring passion for the role and distinctive talent to qualify. They will just be jobs. Not victories.
The Life of Riley
We recently had the opportunity to speak with an avid football fan. As fascinated as we were by a 12-year-old who possessed such depth of insight into a complex game, our questions to Riley were met with ease. She loves the sport. Period. She’s not a girl who loves sports. Riley is a football fan. She personifies the purpose of the Sam Rapoports of the world.
Riley’s initial introduction to the sport was mostly through family and by going to games. But football became a little more intriguing when discussions at school turned to trade talks.
A classmate’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles and the intense conversations surrounding football by a group of boys in her grade piqued her interest. Professing to be “kind of nosy” she connected with their conversations. Riley’s natural curiosity about people and the exuberance of their analyses, made the subject more compelling. She learned even more.
Riley is especially eloquent when it comes to commenting on an organization’s draft picks, shows an encyclopedic knowledge of statistics, and is particularly good at predicting the victor of most games.
Girl Power 3.0
Riley’s interest in football does not define her. She is a person with a passion for the most exciting spectator sport on the planet…who also knows more facts and figures than most.
An accomplished equestrian, Riley has established a reputation as an excellent Hunter Jumper, with an uncanny ability to assimilate layouts in practice and then successfully execute the jumps. Riley also plays piano and loves animals. One day she will be an exceptional veterinarian.
Riley represents the very best of her generation. When you talk with someone like her, you can feel how bright the future.
She is the reason these women are doing what they do, so every Riley can make any choice. The only hurdles will be self-limiting ones, not ones imposed by the NFL or society.
Like Riley, all you will need, is to believe you can fly.
With the NFL Scouting Combine coming to an end last week, the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues are heading into the fourth week of their MLB Spring Training schedule.
Baseball. America’s Pastime.
After pitchers and catchers report in mid-February and the position players arriving close behind, the month of March is always full of promise for April’s regular season start. From players returning after season-ending surgeries, to those who tread the velvet green of a major-league stadium’s turf for the first time.
Besides the nuances of the game itself, what has long been interesting are the multi-cultural influences of this sport’s participants; and this year, the inclusion of a Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL Quarterback.
Hitting nine homers in batting practice during his first workout, maybe Tim Tebow will be able to showcase his athleticism in a different New York neighborhood.
Unfortunately, the relative anonymity enjoyed by the vast majority of spring training invitees has not been granted Tebow.
No matter how far he goes in the MLB, it doesn't matter he went 0-3 in his debut as a Designated Hitter. He will be forever remembered for striding up to the Boston Red Sox' on-deck circle thinking he should take his swings there, as a left-handed hitter. The New York press has been predictably vicious.
But Mets Manager Terry Collins, in his post-game press conference said:
What he's attempting to do, not a lot of guys would even try. I salute the fact that he's giving it his best. You can see his hands are all taped up from blisters from swinging. So he means business.
It takes guts to step outside of one's comfort zone with the knowledge that ridicule will likely follow. So perhaps Tebow never played Little League and learned the game's basics. He may not make the regular season roster, but we can all take his cue about bravery.
In a crossover of another sort, Belfast-born southpaw P.J. Conlon also received a coveted Spring Training invite to the New York Met’s newly minted First Data Field (formerly Tradition Field) in Port St. Lucie, Florida. There’s a good deal of expected buzz about his ERA - the lowest in the minors.
Perhaps this sometimes-beleaguered team could do with the luck of the Irish and a little Tebow-style prayer. "Ya Gotta Believe!" ~ Tug McGraw
"Having it all" is a relative phrase. There are traditional and contemporary definitions. Perhaps the best of all worlds can be found when we get to have and make choices.
It is an incredible gift to be given the chance to pursue interests about which we’re passionate: from altruistic ones that speak to our humanity, to breaking some barriers into traditionally male-dominated roles – like building a career covering major league sporting events.
For women, Erin Andrews is a name as synonymous with sideline sports casting as Barbara Walters is with broadcast journalism pioneering.
Perhaps Erin illustrates the best of how to have both worlds as a woman – she dons glittering gowns as a host in a dancing competition, while also a fixture interviewing the world's finest athletes for both ESPN and Fox Sports; from Super Bowls to World Series games. She has also lent her celebrity to help causes like Feeding America, and the American Red Cross.
Not exempt from the burdens of fame during a highly-publicized violation of privacy trial, to the universally empathetic understanding of a recent cancer diagnosis, Erin continues to move forward from challenges.
She is not only an inspiration, she represents a professional who did not let anything stand in her way...and still never missed a football game she was covering!
What we also found out was, not only is she a passionate Green Bay Packers’ fan who loves soccer and basketball; Julie always wanted to be an athlete.
Although not a very long time ago at all, this youngest of four children would watch her brothers be cheered on, yet her parents did not encourage these pursuits for her. They were considered ones on which girls should not spend time.
But Julie did pursue her love of athletics, excelling in both basketball and track. And today, as a former athlete, she knows that the sensibilities she cultivated have helped her to work with employees by constructively directing their weaknesses, while building off their strengths.
She believes, “You can destroy someone, or look at them as individuals and really help them grow by understanding what they need to thrive.”
A November 20th episode of 60 Minutes featured the story of professional athletes who are notoriously underpaid, despite their success and popularity. These women are working toward breaking one of the most challenging of barriers; equal pay for equal work.
Carli Lloyd is considered the best female soccer player in the world and captains the U.S. team.
“For the 2015 Final, an estimated 30 million people watched on TV in the U.S. as Carli Lloyd’s three goals sealed a huge win against Japan. It was and remains the highest rated soccer match in American history including games played by the U.S. men.” To get an idea of the financial disparity, according to the 60 Minutes’ story:
“Globally men’s soccer is undeniably more popular and profitable than the women’s game. When Germany won the World Cup in 2014, FIFA, the sports international governing body, awarded them $35 million. A year later, when the U.S. women won the cup, the U.S. Soccer Federation received $2 million.”
Now the players on the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team are going up against the U.S. Soccer Federation over wages, and about the treatment they believe does not measure up to that of their male counterparts.
Perhaps one of the biggest fights of their pro career, but one to which they are just as dedicated.
In a September 2016 FOX Business article, an interesting stat:
"From 2009 to 2013, female viewership of NFL games rose 26%, compared to just 18% among men, according to Ebiquity, a media marketing and analytics firm. The NFL has a direct financial incentive to show young women that professional football is both a welcoming community and a potential career option – especially given its goal of reaching $25 billion in annual revenue by the year 2027."
So then the NFL just came out and said it: They want more women on the field.
True to their word, they appointed a new director of football development: Sam Rapoport. She will be assessing women across the country to hold on-field positions.
This is truly the start of something great….taking women beyond the broadcast booth and right into the NFL action. Having a chance to make a contribution of their knowledge and passion for football.
Ours is a game in flux, setting new standards and supporting the dreams of future generations of women.
Not only a revered baseball icon, Jackie Robinson's integrity and fortitude on both the public and private stages makes him the enduring symbol of strength; for anyone, in any sport.
When his Number 42 was communally retired by MLB, it made a statement we can take to heart.
No matter who tells us we can't do something, or if we are personally fearful of failure or ridicule - take a moment to think what this man, this ballplayer endured - during a period of our human history that was not so long ago.
Although he wasn't granted a long life, Jackie Robinson made the life time he was given, count in a way that changed all of us forever.
A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. | Jackie Robinson
This barrier-breaking television show tells the fictional story of a young athlete whose natural pitching abilities are cultivated by her father. Years of practice eventually earned her a spot in the starting rotation for a Major League Baseball team.
As a program that depicts the challenges and gender-bias faced by someone who is “different”, it also portrays the insecurities felt by professional athletes when they feel someone is gunning for their spot in the line-up.
A female baseball player may not be added to an MLB roster next season, but a show like this keeps the dialogue going and the dream alive for little girls who love this sport…and are good at it.