Voices of the NFL's Women's Careers in Football Forum

Jane McManus

Bills co-owner Kim Pegula was among the speakers at the Women's Careers in Football Forum this week in Orlando.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL kicked off its Women's Careers in Football Forum on Thursday with panels featuring Bills co-owner Kim Pegula, Bills assistant coach Kathryn Smith, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and former Dolphins executive vice president Dawn Aponte, among others.

The attendees were women from the tackle football community who were there to learn about the steps they could take to prepare themselves for job opportunities in the NFL.

Here are some takeaways from the participants and panelists:

Knengi Martin coached football at San Diego High School in 2014. She attended panels featuring Smith and Rivera and his family -- his wife is former WNBA coach Stephanie Rivera, and their daughter, Courtney, has done some scouting as an intern for the Panthers.

Coaching high school teams was one of the pathways to the NFL that forum panelists encouraged. But at the end of the day, Martin said she wanted to remain at that level: "You're teaching a young person to be a better person. There's mentorship. If you know football and you love football, then they love you."

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Stephanie Jackson is in law school and plays wide receiver, most recently for Louisiana's Acadiana Zydeco. She said the coaching advice was even better than catching passes during the practice held earlier in the day. "You know the opportunities are out there for women," Jackson said. Rivera encouraged her to send her resume to all 32 teams and to tell them he sent her.

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Odessa Jenkins, a 36-year-old running back who owns the Dallas Elite women's football team and is the vice president of services for a technology company, said she's starting to derive true job satisfaction from football. "Listening to the Riveras talk about visualizing the end game and being ready to get there ... I'm ready," Jenkins said.

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With a full NFL season under her belt, Smith told the group about how she picked up the basics of coaching even though she didn't play football growing up -- she instead competed in swimming and lacrosse. Smith said she went to every Bills meeting she could, whether they were positional meetings or for rookies, and would often take a moment to ask a coach questions. "I honestly never ran into a coach who said, 'No, I don't have the time to explain something,'" Smith said.

"It was honest," she said of the forum. "That was the best part about it. Everyone gave their honest perspective."

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Qiana Wright, a player and owner for the Philadelphia Phantomz, sat in on a breakout session with Stephanie Rivera. Wright was drawn to the idea of coaching, but she said much of her interest is specifically around girls and women in sports. She has a camp in the summer where girls can explore different sports with the motto, "We can do it, too." After the day's discussions she said she wouldn't waver in her commitment "to bring more awareness to women's sports."

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