The landscape of football as most Americans know it is changing – in large part thanks to US Football Gold Medalist, Odessa “OJ” Jenkins. Most don’t realize that for over 80 years, women have been playing organized, professional tackle football and OJ is leading the charge for their holistic inclusion, access equity, and economic advancement as pro athletes.
“For me it’s simple, women and girls can do anything, at any level. Their opportunities should align with that notion. The WNFC and Got Her Back charity were created to ensure that this happens. ,” said Jenkins, Founder of the Women’s National Football Conference. The Doug Williams Center is proud to highlight her during our #28BlackStories campaign; positioned as the executive concluding Administrator’s Week and kicking off Coaches Week as the winningest coach in the history of women’s tackle football. “I am still learning every day, as a coach, as a leader, and as a woman. As I grow, I understand the importance of what it means to be a black woman winning in football on the sidelines. I welcome the challenge of convincing the world to respect and value what we are doing as women in football.”.”
A career running back, OJ stands on one of the most legendary careers in women’s football history – the Hall of Famer is a seven-time National Champion, a two-time USA Football Team captain, and a three-time Team USA Gold Medalist. With all of her success as an athlete, the glaring disparity between women’s and men’s football compensation and recognition became only more unignorable. Her passion for the game extended beyond just playing, and she set out to create a space for the best woman players to compete at the highest level of the game. Thus, she created the Women’s National Football Conference (WNFC).
Under OJ’s leadership, the WNFC has grown to become a league of three divisions, including 16 teams with more than 900 female athletes (6x bigger than the WNBA). The league provides an opportunity for women to compete at the highest level and showcases the top talent and dedication of female football players. Jenkins’ mission is to create a sustainable, revenue generating league that offers female athletes equitable opportunities, respect, and resources, ensuring a professional legacy for the sport.
“I want to see women compensated for the effort that they have put into building this sport over the past few decades. The in-kind sponsorships are nice, but its time to pay the top players who play football. They are marketable, they are 65% women of color, they are next up! Lots of people do things for the next generation. I want to start with this one. I am working to see the business of sport open to women’s tackle football NOW!” said Jenkins.
Odessa Jenkins’ impact extends beyond the WNFC and into the broader sports community. She was an inaugural participant in the NFL’s first Women’s Career in Football Forum and was one of the first women to obtain the coveted Bill Walsh Diversity Internship in an on-field position as Running Backs Coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Her achievements and vision have been featured on major media outlets such as Fox, Sport Illustrated, CBS, ESPN, Yahoo Sports, NFL Network, and The Undefeated. She was recently voted as Culture in Sports 2022 Sports Leader of the Year and is a 2023 Recipient of The Leigh Steinberg Denicola Humanitarian Award. Her leadership, dedication, and innovative spirit have made her a disrupter in sports, earning her the “The Juice”.
She is not just a leader in sports but is also an advocate for inclusion and equity in all aspects of life. She is the founder of multiple nonprofits, including Got Her Back, an organization that focuses on ending gender-based violence and bullying in football, and she is a sought-after global speaker/coach on issues of DE&I, team dynamics, and leadership.
Odessa “OJ” Jenkins’ leadership and commitment to inclusion and equity have transformed the landscape of women’s football in the United States. Her work is an inspiration to all those who strive to make a difference and create a more equitable world.
Interested in supporting women’s football? Contact OJ directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Explore other outstanding pathmakers in sport on The Doug Williams Center’s social media during February’s #28BlackStories campaign. Join The Huddle at dougwilliamscenter.com.