American gridiron football player Adrienne Smith’s involvement at the professional level of the sport spans over a decade. Now, as the 2022 Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) season approaches, Smith is ready to take both the sport and her game to the next level.
New sponsorship and broadcast deals have been significant milestones for women’s gridiron football. But these are only the first steps in giving the sport the exposure and excitement it deserves. For Smith, there are several other changes the sport must undergo to reach its highest potential.
“In women’s tackle football, there are currently two leagues in existence. We need to combine leagues,” said Smith. “We need to do what the AFL and the NFL did back in the 1960s for men. If we combine leagues, we get the best women’s tackle football players in the country, playing at the highest level consistently. That way, we have an enjoyable, high-impact product for viewers to watch, for fans to show up at games for.”
Apart from tackle football, flag football is another side of the sport that deserves attention. The low- to non-contact variation of American football is a popular gateway for many people first getting involved with the sport. This makes flag football a crucial stepping stone in the sport’s development within youth programs.
“In terms of flag football, we’re starting to really generate that pipeline,” explained Smith. “We’ve got girls at the elementary school, junior high school, and especially the high school level who are starting to take to flag football and play.
“Even high school girls are being offered scholarships to play flag football at the collegiate level. That’s what we need, and that’s what the NFL has. The NFL has a pipeline from Pop Warner. We need to develop that on the women’s side as well, and that’s what’s taking place.”
Taking a page from the women’s soccer playbook
A pipeline that connects youth football to the professional level only works when the number of registrations for the youth levels is vibrant. Increasing the visibility of the professional leagues, like the WFA, is crucial for the success of youth football. As Smith explains, it’s a lot like soccer’s surge in popularity in the United States as seen during the last three decades.
“In the 90s for women’s soccer, you had the Mia Hamm’s of the world,” said Smith. “There was that national stage in terms of the Olympics and the World Cup, where all of a sudden, not even just little girls, but adults, parents, just regular guys on the street were able to see women playing a sport at the highest level. And they found it enjoyable, so then it became, ‘Why don’t we have more of this?'”
For a similar spark to happen within women’s tackle football, Smith acknowledges that a lot still needs to change.
“Pay equity doesn’t even seem like a term that should be stated when there’s just no pay involved,” explained Smith. “So I think the first step in pay equity is to somehow get women’s tackle football players pay. Period. Even if it’s a $50-a-week stipend just to cover the costs of gas to get to and from practices, or to help out with childcare. Then, some of the moms can have someone watching their kids while they dedicate themselves to this craft.”
Smith notes that it takes similar changes to what women’s soccer has endured in order for women’s tackle football to evolve. Even as the United States women’s national soccer team scores a major win in their fight for equal pay, tackle football first needs viewership to increase.
“One step towards [paying women’s tackle football players] is getting the games out there, getting the game seen at the national level,” says Smith. “When we are able to be viewed, then there’s interest and interest will turn into dollars in terms of, ‘Oh, people want to buy tickets to go see games.’ Or sponsors realize, ‘Oh my goodness, there are 10 million people tuning into this women’s tackle football championship. It might make sense for us to advertise our wares during this game.’ And so it becomes this positive cycle of everybody winning when we support women in sports.
“And the same with the women’s hockey league. As soon as they were able to get some type of platform where a multitude of eyeballs could see them, then you start seeing the money come towards that. They start to get national sponsors, et cetera. So I’m really hopeful that the same thing will happen this year for women in football.”
Blitz Champz: A football card game
Another way Smith promotes football at the youth level is through her football-themed card game Blitz Champz. Aimed at reinforcing math skills among kids, Blitz Champz was selected as a National Parenting Product Awards (NAPPA) winner in 2017 and has since grown in popularity.
“I created Blitz Champz in December 2015; that’s when I first had the idea. I remember waking up and scribbling it down. The idea came to me because I wanted to create something. I’m a creator, so I wanted to create a fun game that would take the strategy in the competition that I feel when I’m on the field and bring it into a different medium so that other people could experience it.”
The card game takes just two minutes to learn and allows between two to six players at a time. Anyone can purchase a deck online for $19.99 or download a printable version for only $9.99, making it accessible for anyone on a budget.
“What I love about it is that inclusion was very important to me. I wanted anyone who picked up a Blitz Champz deck to see themselves in the game. So whether you’re a girl or a boy, Asian or Hispanic, if you pick up a Blitz Champz deck, you’re going to see yourself reflected in that game. This was very important to me that everyone could feel like the sport of American football, whether it’s tackle football or flag football, was something that they could participate in and love.
“Now we’ve got kids and families throughout the United States playing this game. I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with some NFL teams like the Las Vegas Raiders and the Houston Texans and incorporate Blitz Champz at their flag football clinics and their game-day activations, respectively. And the sky’s the limit. I’m really looking forward to what else we’ll be able to do with it in 2022.”
Smith looks ahead
As the 2022 WFA season approaches, Smith looks forward to being her best self on the field.
“I think some of my goals for 2022, really, I just want to become the best wide receiver that I can be. And I want to help the Boston Renegades win a seventh title. I want to train harder than I’ve ever trained.
“I want to focus and lock and visualize. Look at some of the greats like Jerry Rice. Look at how they run their routes. I want to look and study them and really implement their skill sets and their techniques into my game, so I can just be a phenomenal receiver for my team and help my team win.”
Each WFA season brings increased visibility to the sport. This makes the upcoming campaign an exciting time for women’s tackle football—primarily as the 2022 WFA Championship Game will air on national television via ESPN2.
“The WFA season begins in April, and we will go through July, so I’m really looking forward to that again, top tier competition at the WFA pro level. Like I said before, we will have the championship game on ESPN2, and there’s going to be a lot of big things happening. I’m really excited that we’re finally starting to get some of the shine that we deserve.”
But Smith’s objectives are not restricted to the field of play. She hopes to continue expanding the reach of Blitz Champz as a way to promote childhood education through fun.
“Off the field, I really want to get Blitz Champz into the hands of as many kids as possible. In addition to Blitz Champz being a fun football card game to play, it’s also really good at reinforcing math skills for kids in grades three through eight.
“I’m extremely focused on STEM. I want every American child to be a whiz at mathematics, and Blitz Champz can help them do that. It creates confidence and familiarity with mathematics and really improves mental math skills, addition and subtraction. So that’s what I’m looking to do this year.”
To learn more about women’s tackle football, be sure to visit Gridiron Queendom. Smith created the website to increase opportunities for female football players worldwide.