Adrienne Smith: The rise of women’s gridiron football (part one)

Adrienne Smith of the Boston Militia is tackled by Sonfre Roberson, Alicia Freeman, Natasha Johnson, and Tiffany Humphrey of the San Diego Surge.
Adrienne Smith of the Boston Militia is tackled while running with the ball during the Women's Football Alliance National Championship game against the San Diego Surge at Lane Stadium on August 2, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In a first for Her Football Hub, we sat down with American football player Adrienne Smith to discuss her career and the trajectory of women’s gridiron football.

Throughout the United States, the NFL dominates mainstream sports. Yet, the same can’t be said about the women’s side of the game.

Women’s American football has been around for quite some time. But not until recently has the sport begun to gain more visibility.

Boston Renegades wide receiver Adrienne Smith has witnessed the sport’s growth throughout her career. Since 2006, Smith has been an integral part of the women’s football community. She has competed for both club and country, winning at the highest levels of the sport in the process.

Living and breathing sports

Smith grew up with a passion for all sports. Before football was a central part of her life, she pursued softball and basketball. And, no matter the sport, the act of competing came naturally for her.

“Sports have just always been a part of who I am,” said Smith. “When you follow your truth and follow who you are, it lends itself to becoming a profession sometimes. And that’s how I ended up playing football at the highest level. Tackle football and flag football.”

Smith began her professional football journey in 2006 after signing with the New York Sharks. Following the 2010 season, she transferred to the Boston Militia for the team’s first season in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). Boston found immediate success in the WFA, winning the 2011 championship title.

Building success through adversity

In 2015, the Militia disbanded but eventually reorganized to become the Boston Renegades. Smith continued playing for the reimagined team with much success. Just this past summer, Boston clinched their sixth title—a remarkable feat given the constraints of the current health crisis.

“Winning Boston’s sixth championship title was groundbreaking,” said Smith with a satisfied smile. “I remember winning my first championship with Boston in 2011, and it was the end of several months of a grueling season.

“To replicate that again in 2021, in Canton, Ohio, after Mr. Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots had flown us on the Patriot’s jet to the game, it was euphoric. It just was surreal. I remember being in the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium looking around, trying to absorb that moment and just imprint it upon my mind and my heart. It literally was more than I had ever dreamed of as a little girl.”

Because of restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the WFA canceled their 2020 season. When players returned for the 2021 season, new protocols were in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

“We felt very fortunate in 2021 to be able to finally play,” said Smith. “We were fully masked, and we were socially distancing as much as possible during training camp and practices leading up to the season. Then finally, vaccinations were able to roll out in April/May of 2021. So that helped, but it was very difficult.

“We had a lot of Zoom meetings, a lot of practices going over schemes via Zoom, answering questions, and doing as much as we could remotely. So again, winning that championship in 2021 was tremendous given the physical hurdles that we all had to overcome in terms of spatial conditions and just being able to play together.”

A battle beyond the playing field

On the field, the Renegades have displayed profound resilience on several occasions. Their championship titles demonstrate this, but it’s what the players endure off the field that proves their strength the most.

“We all pay to play,” said Smith. “So none of us are receiving any type of salaries or payment, and yet we have dedicated ourselves to pursuing the sport and playing at the highest levels. We did lose some players. We lost some teams, who had to withdraw from the league because of the financial consequences of COVID.”

Players and teams were hit hard, especially during the postponed 2020 season. As the league continues to recover, Smith is hopeful things will improve for women’s gridiron football across the board.

“Now, we have national sponsors within the Women’s Football Alliance. Secret Deodorant is one of them we have seen that didn’t exist before. There were no national sponsors. And I’m super proud to announce the WFA has done an extraordinary feat in that our championship game will be held July 10, 2022 in Canton, Ohio. And it will be televised live on ESPN2.

“That is unheard of. We’re finally getting access to the national stage. And that was something that 15 years ago, heck, ten years ago just wasn’t on the radar. We’re finally starting to get traction and exposure and legitimacy to the quote unquote mainstream world.”

She admits that’s a big deal for the sport. After the 2021 season saw 12 WFA games televised in partnership with Eleven Sports, the jump to ESPN2 for the 2022 championship game is massive.

But there’s no stopping there.

In part two, Smith talks about the next steps that need to take place for the game to reach its potential. She also discusses Blitz Champz, the football card game she created to bring the competitive side out of anyone while encouraging math skills.

MORE from Her Football Hub: