Women’s football star Santia Deck continues to shatter glass ceilings

(Courtesy of Eastbay)

For the self-proclaimed “Queen of Abs” Santia Deck, giving up is not an option.

Between track, rugby and football, Deck has aspired to greatness in whatever sport she’s set her mind to. Right now, that sport is women’s tackle football, where the 29-year-old is the highest-paid athlete after signing a multi-million dollar contract with the Women’s Football League Association (WFLA) last January.

“I just want to be the best at whatever I do,” Deck told Just Women’s Sports.

Before she was dodging defenders on the football field, Deck was speeding down the track. Having picked up track and field at age 7, Deck made her way to Texas A&M–Kingsville, where she ran the 55-meter, 60m, 100m and 200m as part of the indoor and outdoor teams from 2010-14.

There, Deck started building her social media following, branding herself as the “Queen of Abs” after people started noticing how ripped she was. Deck originally wanted to go with “Princess of Abs,” but her mom had another idea.

“She was like, ‘Why be a princess? We can be a queen,’” said Deck, who has grown her following to 867,000 on Instagram.

A year after graduating from Kingsville, and feeling the effects of injuries sustained during her track career, Deck decided to give flag football a try. She had played football with her twin brother and other boys while growing up in Houston, and that experience combined with her track career gave her the foundation she needed.

“When I was out there playing at my first tryout, they were like, ‘How do you know how to cut?’” she said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s just natural, I guess.”

Deck has since torn up the flag football world and the ranks of the Atlanta Women’s Flag Football League, regularly outrunning the competition.

The next stop on Deck’s football journey is the WFLA, though the league has yet to stage a game since its founding in 2019 and its future has come into question in recent months.

WFLA founder Lupe Rose first approached Deck when she was training for rugby. At the time, Deck was trying to make Team USA and couldn’t commit to anything else. But after an injury ended her Olympic dream, she reconsidered the full-tackle women’s football league. Rose’s offer of a multi-million dollar contract with her team, the Los Angeles Fames, was an added bonus.

“That contract was jaw-dropping,” Deck said. “It was a surreal moment. I really didn’t know how to take it.”

While she says it took a while for the significance of the contract to sink in, Deck believes it’s an indicator of where women’s sports are headed. Over three decades ago, the National Women’s Football League enjoyed a long run before teams broke apart and the enterprise folded in 1988, as detailed in Lyndsey D’Arcangelo and Britni de la Cretaz’s new book “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.”

“I hope that it inspires other leagues to pay their athletes more and actually give them what they’re worth and what they deserve,” Deck said. “We deserve just as much opportunity as the guys. Exposure, financials, recovery, whatever, we deserve the same things.”

Since then, the WFLA has been on tenuous footing. The league’s website, which very recently depicted 32 copyrighted team names and logos and 10 franchises with owners (including rapper JaRule), has become inactive. In September, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Rose with fraudulent stock sales of her company SHE Beverage, a California-based maker of healthy beverages, beer and hard lemonade. The company’s legal team has since denied the allegations.

Six days after the lawsuit was filed, Deck wrote on her Facebook and Instagram accounts that she was walking away from the league.

“I’ve decided to part ways with the WFLA to pursue other sport opportunities. Stay tuned for what’s next!” she wrote in since-deleted posts.

When asked about her current status with the league, Deck declined to comment for legal reasons. The last sign that the WFLA planned to launch came on Oct. 23, when an Instagram post appeared to indicate a May 11, 2023 start date.

The WFLA did not respond to a request for comment from Just Women’s Sports.

While figuring out her football future, Deck has stayed busy. In 2020, the 29-year-old founded her own shoe company, becoming the first female athlete to do so.

“Creating Tronus was really about liberation,” she said. “Because I feel like women, and us being athletes, is just extremely difficult. It’s a lot of ups and downs, a lot of obstacles, trying to get sponsored by bigger brands.

“I was like, why not try to do something that’s kind of out of the box, that’s kind of breaking through a glass ceiling? I’m getting the opportunity to really be able to create my own shoe the way that I envisioned it.”

From watching Tampa Bay Buccaneers players rock her shoes to having them appear in an upcoming movie, the support has been above and beyond what she expected from the outset.

The same has been true of Deck’s partnership with Eastbay. After the sports footwear and apparel company launched its new Eastbay Performance line in late September, Deck captained one of three flag football teams at a celebratory event in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park.

Deck competes at a flag football event in Brooklyn's McCarren Park. (Courtesy of Eastbay)

With pro-BMX athlete Nigel Sylvester and Rumble Boxing co-founder Noah Neiman captaining the other two teams, the games were fast-paced and Deck narrowly missed out on the championship trophy.

“Everybody, at first, was like ‘Oh this is fun. Like we’re not going to go crazy,’” she said. “And then everybody became super competitive.”

Despite the setbacks over the years, Deck is hopeful for the future of women’s football. And whatever’s next in her athletic career, she’ll continue to be an advocate for her peers.

“For women in sports, period, we need more women supporting women,” she said.

“Making sure that we’re putting women in higher positions when it comes to the back end of things, being able to control the button pushers. We need to have women in control of those areas of sports as well, so that we do have a voice.”

Emma Hruby is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.