Many of the brightest young talents in girls’ flag football took the field in Beaverton, Ore. last week for the Nike Football Kickoff Classic in partnership with the NFL. When the high school players weren’t showing off their skills in the round-robin showcase, they caught up with Just Women’s Sports on their favorite parts about playing flag football, their professional football aspirations and more.

One thing all the players have in common is their fandom of women’s sports. When asked who their favorite athlete or team is in women’s sports, the responses varied between their flag football inspirations and other sports they play or watch.

Aaya McLyn, quarterback for Long Beach Poly (California), said flag football is secondary to soccer for her.

“My main sport is soccer so I do watch a lot of professional soccer. My favorite athlete is Abby Wambach just because of her aggression and want to be good,” she said, referencing the World Cup champion and U.S. women’s national soccer team’s all-time leading goal scorer.

Quarterback Janasia Wilson, who shined for Irvington (New Jersey) at the Nike Kickoff Classic, cited the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks as her favorite team when she’s not watching the U.S. women’s national flag football team.

Another player from Long Beach Poly said college softball is her other favorite sport, and she likes watching Tennessee’s Kiki Milloy and Oklahoma’s Tiare Jennings in particular.

Two players from Willowbrook (Illinois) were quick to shout out Diana Flores, the quarterback and captain of the Mexican national flag football team. Flores has played for Mexico since she was 16 and has been an advocate for making flag football an Olympic sport in 2028.

@justwomenssports So clean 😮‍💨 @Nike #flagfootball #girlsflagfootball #football ♬ original sound - Just Women’s Sports

Finally, Leiana Juarez of Vegas showed her appreciation for one of the greatest athletes of all time, retired tennis legend Serena Williams.

“I’d say Serena Williams,” Juarez said, “just because she’s super hardworking and dedicated and she always is humble about everything and just continues to show out towards the world.”

It didn’t take long for Janasia Wilson to steal the spotlight at the Nike Football Kickoff Classic on Thursday, after she predicted that her team would “win all these games” in a mic’d-up segment during warm-ups.

The quarterback from Irvington High School (New Jersey) led her team down the field in the first quarter of their 14-0 win over Willowbrook High School (Illinois). From the 2-yard line, Wilson snapped the ball, avoided an incoming pass rusher and scampered out to the right and into the endzone for her team’s first touchdown.

Wilson helped Irvington build their lead on another run in the first half. Rolling out to the right again, she cut inside past two diving defenders and crossed the endline to give her team a commanding two-touchdown lead.

The Blue Knights would not relinquish the lead from there. With their defense holding Willowbrook scoreless, Willowbrook’s two touchdowns were more than enough to seal the victory.

Just Women’s Sports mic’d Wilson up during warm-ups, and the jokes she made with her teammates reflected the moves she displayed later on the field.

“I would’ve juked you,” she said. “You would have got crossed. You would’ve been eating turf.”

@justwomenssports Janasia Wilson mic’d up at warm ups 🤣 @Nike #flagfootball #micdup ♬ original sound - Just Women’s Sports

The game was part of the second-annual Nike Football Kickoff Classic in partnership with the NFL, a round-robin showcase for some of the top girls’ and boys’ high school flag football programs in the country.

Odessa Jenkins is the CEO of the Women’s National Football Conference (WNFC), a professional women’s tackle football league with over 20 teams and 1,000 women and coaches in 17 states. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the future of tackle football and why 2021 is shaping up to be a critical year for the WNFC.

You have an extensive background in both business and sports. Obviously, we believe that women’s sports are one of the most exciting opportunities in the space. What convinced you that the WNFC could succeed as both a business and a sports league? 

I worked at a startup for several years, and in 2014 I also came to be the owner of my first women’s tackle football team. It was in a different league, and I was really excited about becoming an owner. So as I took on that ownership, I was also learning the basics of building a business from the ground up in my startup work. I learned to ask questions like, Is there a viable market for this thing? What is the value proposition? Who is the consumer that will be consuming it and growing it? How will it look 50 years from now? How is it going to make money? All of these things that I think a lot of people never consider in women’s tackle football, to be honest with you.

Women have been playing the sport for 75 years, yet there’s never been a corporation formed for women’s tackle football, which I couldn’t believe. There were charities and other kinds of businesses, but never a corporation. So I started to look at women’s tackle football like a startup. What’s my value prop? What are our lines of revenue? And that’s when I started to think about how to create the WNFC.

So why do I think it could be valuable? It’s not me, it’s the market that’s telling me that it could be valuable. There’s been $600 million invested in alternatives to the NFL over the last seven years. We have the WFNC called an alternative to the NFL, which is a compliment. And the fact that nobody knew anything about this sport outside of lingerie football, to me was a business opportunity.

So that’s what kind of got me thinking, it’s been around for 70 years, it’s not going away, there’s enough players, there’s enough coaches to spin up a new league every single year. That means that the product itself is viable. Now how we make a viable business around it is the problem that I’m solving with the WNFC.

What do you think makes the WNFC different and how are you positioning the league to be the league for womens’ football?

There’s a couple of things you have to do to be at the pinnacle of the sport. One thing we’re doing is that we aren’t taking from our team in a way that leaves them in a financially desperate situation. So for example, we’re the only league that doesn’t require a team to pay us annually. We actually have profit sharing with all of our teams.

That was the first thing we did in the WNFC. Instead of having the teams pay us, we actually paid them. A part of our five-year plan is to actually invest back into the teams and grow them to be profitable businesses.

The other thing is our branding and our marketing. We’re the only women’s tackle football league, which is crazy, that has had a chief marketing officer and a chief branding officer. Our team is structured like any other executive team would be. And so our branding, our content, is always fresh. It’s always new.

I think the other thing that makes us unique is because we’ve done those other things, we’re attractive to sponsors. So we were the first football league of our kind to solicit a global sponsorship from a major brand with Adidas. We were the league that made brands pay attention to women’s tackle football. That’s how we’ve been different is that we have actually developed revenue lines.

I think the other thing that makes us significantly different is what we’re doing with apparel. We’ve created a viable line of business with our fan shop. It’s going to be a six-figure business in 2021. That kind of volume has never really been done, frankly, because an apparel line coming out of football has never been built. So doing those kinds of things differentiates us. And I think the team that’s running the league differentiates us as well. It’s a big group of people who are doing it because they want to see women’s tackle football become a professional sport.

I was looking at your site earlier and saw the uniforms — they are really fresh, and the colors are awesome. I also saw a bit about a new TV channel, WNFC TV. Can you talk about that? 

What I’m trying to do as a woman of color, and frankly as a startup founder, is to try to find other high growth businesses that are like mine and connect them to the WNFC. So we connected with this amazing company called Vyre Network, and they are a TV and live streaming network that is based in 116 countries. They are basically creating their own Hulu, with mid-level content. And so this group, Vyre Network, is now going to globally distribute all WNFC games. So we will be the first league ever to have every single one of our games globally distributed.

Everyone always asks, “Where do I find a game?” Even with the more established leagues, right. Where do I go to watch the WNBA? Now you’ll have an answer to that question for the WNFC in 2021.

You’ll go to Vyre Network. You will be able to watch our game on a mobile app. It’s free. There’s no barrier to entry, no sign in. You download it on Android or iOS. You download the application, you go to our channel, and you can start watching our games anywhere in the world. It’ll be on a website, it’ll be on Roku TV, Apple TV, and it’s coming to smart TVs in the summer. So it’s a great partnership. It’s another revenue generating opportunity for the league as we continue to grow.

And I saw that you guys had the 2021 schedule up on the site too. I mean, pending what happens with the pandemic, is that pretty much set?

Yeah, it is. Our schedule is set right now. What’s crazy is that we’ve been talking to a couple of expansion teams, so our schedule is set and done. But we might have some surprise announcements coming here very shortly where we grow a little bit.

Our championship game is going to be the weekend of August 6th and 7th. It’s going to be hosted in Dallas, Texas, at the University of North Texas, Apogee Stadium. So it’s a 60,000 person stadium, and it’ll be a big deal for us.

Our season doesn’t start until May. So we’re going to try to stay away from the pandemic as much as we can. But barring everything being shut down in May, this is going to be the most exciting year in this sport that we’ve ever had.

I wanted to chat a little bit about you specifically and more about your background. I know you referenced working at startups and how that experience shaped your perspective. I know that you also spend time in the NFL as a Bill Walsh coaching intern. I’m curious as to how that experience shaped your perspective?

I was in the NFL for eight weeks doing an internship, mostly with the Falcons, and a week with the Dallas Cowboys and their rookie camp. I don’t know that anything was more impactful for me than truly seeing the lack of parity in the athletic experience of professional female football players compared to professional male football players.

I also learned a lot from a business perspective, frankly, walking into and getting behind the scenes of the Dallas Cowboys. Even for a week, you get a clear understanding of why they have one of the most impressive and valuable brands in all of the world. It is attention to detail, always sticking to the brand, the level of professionalism, always sticking to the plan, the way they buy into their people, keeping their culture internal, but letting it be started externally. So all of those things I learned.

But when I got to the Atlanta Falcons, Sam Rapoport was critical and has always been an ally for me, and Scott Pioli, who’s a mentor of mine, was the assistant general manager there at the time. And him and coach Dan Quinn really opened the entire organization to me. Katie Sowers had been there before me. And so that organization was very open to the idea that a baller is a baller, a coach is a coach, and it didn’t matter if you were one of the men. So they really gave me an open eye to the entire operations team. And what I really saw there was that you can’t have that level of success without a significant level of investment. And that’s why when I was with the Falcons, I determined then and there that I was going to create the WNFC, because that was the missing piece in women’s football.

Obviously the pandemic has been a big hurdle in your time as a CEO. Have there been any other big hurdles that you’ve had to get over? And if so, how have you worked to overcome them?

I think the biggest hurdles dealing with women’s tackle football right now are the pipeline, because girl’s football isn’t developed. We have to develop women’s football from the top down and not from youth to professionals. So that’s always a challenge. In developing this thing, we also have to work to develop a pipeline to help girls. It’s more challenging than it is for other sports, because Title IX doesn’t include girls playing football in college.

I think the other big challenge is fundraising. We’ve done a good job of fundraising but I think that a lot of sponsors just don’t know we exist, so we need awareness. Once they figure out we exist, they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do business.” But I think that lack of awareness, and, frankly, the fact that most people think of half naked girls when you say women’s football, is a barrier for us. And so we’ve tried to respectfully market against that and market for what we’re about.

I am curious, in terms of that pipeline that you’re talking about, how does it work right now? Where do a lot of the players come from? I’m sure a lot of them grew up playing the sport, but I am also assuming that some of them transitioned from other sports. Is that true?

Yeah. And so that’s what’s crazy. And that’s where I think the value of women’s football is even more clearly stated. Even though there is no college level, there is no high school level, there is no junior level, there are still thousands of women every year finding football. So it should tell everybody something that women continue to play it, they continue to find it. It’s generally women who played other sports and didn’t realize, “Oh my God, I could play football.” So, college athletes, basketball players, cross fitters, runners, any woman who loves the game and is an athlete. So most of our recruiting it’s done on social and at events, at practices, in our local communities. But frankly, thousands of women every year are discovering that they can play football for the first time through us, through our league, because there’s nothing else introducing them to the idea of playing the game.

Athletes are athletes, but when a football player finds football, it is the most beautiful thing ever, because frankly for a woman, not only is she finding her purpose in her sport, she is embarking upon something that she never imagined doing. You don’t know how good or how amazing or how electric you are as a football player until you play football. And that takes 22 people to be on the field at the same time, 11 on 11. That’s what also makes this sport extremely special.

Was there anything else that you wanted to bring up that I didn’t mention at all?

The only other thing I wanted to talk about is a partnership that we haven’t announced yet, but it’s coming. I want to give a shout out to She Plays CEO Ashley Hart. We’ve been talking about partnering to make the first fantasy football for women. So I want everybody to look out for that, because that is also something that will, I think, change the industry.

Happy New Year’s, squad. We don’t need to tell you that 2020 was the worst. But in a tough year for everyone, and a bumpy year for sports, the world’s best and brightest still found a way to break records, win trophies, lead movements, and inspire fans.

So while we’re all ready to wave 2020 goodbye, here are 20 things that happened in women’s sports that didn’t totally suck.

1. The WNBA signed a groundbreaking CBA

It’s hard to remember now, but the year got off to a sparkling start when the WNBA announced a historic new Collective Bargaining Agreement. With a significant salary bump, fully-paid maternity leave, improved travel arrangements, increased investments in marketing, and a future 50-50 revenue split, the new eight-year CBA was not just a momentous achievement for the league and its players, but a watershed moment in women’s sports.

2. And the Wubble rewrote the athlete-activist script

There will never be another “Wubble” (we hope). But what the players did this season inside their Florida bubble changed sports forever. From a season-opening moment of silence in honor of Breonna Taylor, to a nationally-aired roundtable on politics and race, the W made social justice an integral part of its season. Players wore jerseys honoring victims of racial violence, endorsed a US Senate candidate, and spearheaded voter registration campaigns, all while putting on a show on the hardwood, night in and night out.

3. They weren’t alone in answering the call

Athletes everywhere found their voices this summer. Sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, protests against racial injustice spread from the streets of Minneapolis to the tennis courts of New York, with female athletes everywhere leading the charge. Many, like Coco Gauff and Simone Manuel, spoke out at rallies and through social media. Others, like Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry, were vindicated after being punished for protesting earlier in their careers. Together, they reset the expectations of what athletes can do.

4. Naomi Osaka talked the talk, walked the walk

One of those athletes who rose to the moment was Naomi Osaka, the once-reticent superstar who in 2020 transformed herself into an outspoken activist. Osaka first led a player strike at the Western & Southern Open before winning the US Open while donning a series of seven masks, each one honoring a Black American killed by police or in an act of racial profiling. Osaka said ahead of time she needed to win every match to present every mask, and she did just that, claiming her third major title in three years while reaffirming her status as tennis’ best young player.

5. Women’s sports bucked the trend 

Sports viewership was down everywhere this year—everywhere, that is, except women’s sports. The NWSL became the first major team sports league to return to play, staging a Covid-free Challenge Cup en route to a 500% increase in television viewership on the year. WNBA regular season viewership was likewise up 68% for the regular season, while Athletes Unlimited brought softball to television, and NBC picked up FAWSL games from across the pond. In a year when sports viewership was down everywhere else, women’s sports showed up and showed out.

6. The Houston Dash won a trophy

The Challenge Cup was one small step for team sports, one giant leap for the Houston Dash. The oft-derided underdogs from H-Town played with a Texas-sized chip on their shoulders for most of the Cup, winning the club’s first-ever major trophy before double-fisting Budweisers in a celebration fit for Queens.

7. Kristie Mewis won the year

Her post-Challenge Cup shenanigans sent the internet into a tizzy (see above), while her remarkable return to the USWNT after more than six years away had many of us in tears. No athlete better encapsulated the meaning of perseverance in 2020 than Kristie Mewis, whose 2,722 days between USWNT goals was both a national team record and the epitome of grit.

8. Sabrina Ionescu cemented her status as triple-double queen

Her first WNBA season might have been cut short by injury, but let’s not forget all that Ionescu did in 2020. Already the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple doubles, she became the first college basketball player ever (men’s or women’s) to collect 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in a career—on the very same day she spoke at the memorial service for her mentor Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.

9. A’ja Wilson made the leap 

We all knew A’ja Wilson was going to be a WNBA superstar. We just didn’t know when. But in year three, the 24-year-old made the leap, winning league MVP en route to leading the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA Finals. Watching her and Breanna Stewart first duel for the MVP and then for the title, it’s safe to say the league is in very good hands.

10. Christine Sinclair scored goal No. 185

Canadian legend Christine Sinclair etched her name into the history books this January when she scored international goal No. 185 at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, passing Abby Wambach for the most all-time. At 37 years old, Sinclair is the most-capped international footballer playing today (with 296 national team appearances), and is still going strong heading into next summer’s Olympics.

11. Sarah Fuller kicked her way into history

The feel-good story of the year was none other than Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller. First, she led the Commodores soccer team to their first SEC Tournament title since 1994. A week later, she became the first woman to play in a Power Five conference football game when she kicked off for the Vanderbilt team. Two weeks later, she knocked home two PATs to become the first woman to score in a Power Five game, inspiring countless fans while expertly laying waste to the trolls of Twitter.

12. We started a podcast!

We’re going to throw ourselves a high-five for this one. The Just Women’s Sports podcast debuted at #1 in sports and #16 overall, and just 20 episodes in, we’re cruising past 750,000 downloads at last check. This wouldn’t be possible without all you faithful listeners. Thank you, thank you, thank you—and rest assured, more pods are coming in 2021.

13. Alex Morgan became a mom 

Our very first podcast guest was none other than Alex Morgan, USWNT superstar and, as of May, a first-time mom. Her daughter Charlie accompanied Morgan abroad as she suited up for Tottenham Hotspur this fall, where the two-time World Cup champ barely missed a beat in her return to play. Recording two goals in five appearances for the club, Morgan is on track to lead the USWNT in Tokyo next summer.

14. Sue Bird got two rings

In a year of surprises, Sue Bird reminded us that some things never change. At 40 years old, she’s still one of the best floor generals in the WNBA, leading the Seattle Storm to their fourth league title inside the WNBA bubble while also playing a pivotal role in the league’s social justice efforts. Adding to her jewelry collection, Sue Bird also got engaged to fellow superstar Megan Rapinoe. Name a more anticipated post-Covid wedding. Spoiler alert, you can’t.

15. Cat Osterman proved age is just a number 

Pitching legend Cat Osterman likewise spent 2020 proving that age is just a number. After coming out of retirement in 2018 in the hopes of earning a spot on Team USA, Osterman casually pitched her way to the first-ever Athletes Unlimited individual title, fanning a good number of players who grew up watching Osterman play. 37 years old and still the best in the world, Osterman is on a mission to win Olympic gold in Tokyo.

16. April Ross and Alix Klineman showed they’re Olympic-ready

In a condensed season, Ross and Klineman swept the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup, winning all 12 of their matches over three weekends of competition. After winning bronze with Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2016, Ross and her new partner now look poised to enter next summer’s Olympics as the favorites to take home gold.

17. The NWSL announced not one, but two expansions

Already the longest-running professional women’s soccer league ever in the U.S., the NWSL looks poised to achieve even greater heights as it expands its footprint with two additional clubs. Racing Louisville FC will begin play in 2021, while Angel City FC, led by a superstar ownership featuring Natalie Portman, Alexis Ohanian, Serena Williams, and many others, will kick off in 2022. High-profile investors signal a new era of growth for the NWSL, and you better believe we’re ready for take off.

18. The LPGA proved its future is already here

All four 2020 LPGA majors were won by first-time major winners. Sophia Popov’s British Open win may have been the most unique, as the 304th-ranked player had been caddying for a friend just a few weeks before, but in each of the year’s majors, the LPGA’s parity was on display. As the year concludes, eight of the top ten ranked players are 27 or younger, and the future of the tour has never looked brighter.

19. Vivianne Miedema put the football world on notice

Speaking of future superstars: at 24 years old, Vivianne Miedema has already scored more international goals (70) for the Netherlands than any other player before her, on either the women’s or men’s teams. And this year, she became the all-time leading goalscorer in FA Women’s Super League history, with 53 goals (and counting) in only 55 appearances for Arsenal. Look for the Dutch striker to be a star at next summer’s Olympics.

20. Tara VanDerveer won game No. 1099

With a 104-61 win over Pacific on December 15th, longtime Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer passed the Pat Summitt for the most victories in Division I history. It may have come in an empty gym, but nothing could diminish the importance of VanDerveer’s achievement. “I really hope Pat Summitt is looking down and saying, ‘Good job, Tara. Keep it going,'” said VanDerveer after the game. With Stanford 7-0 and ranked No. 1, VanDerveer looks ready to add to her tally as well as her trophy case in 2021.


2020 is over. But as we look back on a year like no other, it seems only right to take a peek at what’s to come, and no sporting event in 2021 will be bigger than the Tokyo Olympics.

Next summer’s Olympics will provide the first opportunity for the world to come together since the pandemic began. No matter what happens, it’s bound to be historic, with so many pre-Olympics storylines already swirling. What will organizers do to keep everyone safe? How will athletes use the stage to drive social change, especially after the US said there will be no punishments for protesting?

And then there’s the question of who wins all the medals.

Needless to say, there will be drama, exultation, disappointment and relief, and Just Women’s Sports will be there to cover it all. Be sure to keep your eyes (and ears) peeled this winter and spring, as we’ll be rolling out special coverage starting in January. And trust us, you won’t want to miss what we’ve got cooking up.