Odessa Jenkins has been playing tackle football most of her life and has a love for the sport. She’s from a big family and sports was always part of family time. As she headed into high school, she was told to switch to a girls’ sport if she wanted to compete at the collegiate level, so she switched to basketball, playing while earning her degree at California Polytechnic State University.
“Right after college I went looking for football again. … There’s nothing like putting on a helmet and playing football,” said Jenkins. While her playing days are now over, Jenkins not only coaches but she is the owner of the Women’s National Football Conference (WNFC), which kicked off its second season last weekend (the league debuted in spring 2019 but cancelled its 2020 season due to COVID-19).
“I’m trying to push the sport to a new strategy. I love the idea of team,” said Jenkins, who works in the tech field as president of Emtrain, a technology platform offering compliance training, analytics and guidance to companies to develop healthy workplace cultures.
The WNFC is Jenkins’ baby. It currently involves 22 teams with approximately 1,000 players in 18 states. Each team plays six regular season games (three home and three away) and then there are two playoff tournaments. The championship game will be in Dallas in August.
“I knew that our sport needed that next level; it needed a corporation that could work to generate some income, press, marketing and branding,” she said.
Jenkins said people want to hear more human stories in sports. Having the ability to tell a woman’s story authentically feels right. Although it was rough getting through the pandemic, she’s excited for what 2021 will bring. She’s abundantly appreciative of the corporations that are supporting the league as well as the fans, who buy apparel from the fan shops.
“The players are superstars. They are everyday women and special women,” said Jenkins. Most have day jobs, but the goal is for this to be a profitable league able to pay generous salaries. The players approach the WNFC as the highest level of football available to them and take pride in being pioneers.
“Tackle football is a major aspect of American culture, and I want to help our sports culture and frankly the culture of our country truly evolve and develop,” said Jenkins. “I want to help women’s sports grow up little girls who believe they can be anything in sport.”