For the first time ever, a women’s professional football championship will be hosted at an NFL stadium.
Heinz Field will host the 2012 SilverSport WFA National Championship on Saturday, August 4. The WFA, or Women’s Football Alliance, is a 62-team U.S. league that plays full-contact football. While local team Pittsburgh Passion has had several winning seasons, it did not, alas, make it to the final playoff game this year. Instead, the contest between the Chicago Force and the San Diego Surge starts at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast via ESPN3 to 73 million homes, and online at WatchESPN.com, Xbox Live and mobile devices.
Saturday will be a day-long “Breaking Barriers” festival at the stadium, including VIP Reception for sponsors and athletes, a Fan Fair and a ceremony afterwards in which two Pittsburgh Steelers will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
The event comes at the 40th anniversary of two historic events: the passage of Title IX, the law that outlawed gender discrimination in U.S. educational programs and by extension, in school athletics; and the Immaculate Reception — one of the most famous plays in football history, carried out by beloved Pittsburgh idol (and Passion co-owner) Franco Harris.
Among the cheering fans will be former Pittsburgh Passion defensive back Jennifer Cairns. The recipient of the first-ever ATHENA Young Professional Award for women leaders age 35 and younger, Cairns is a partner at law firm McGuire Woods specializing in litigation and risk management. ImaginePittsburghNow.com asked this eloquent spokeswoman and advocate for equality and the mentorship of women and girls to weigh in on Saturday’s gathering. Here’s what she had to say.
“I think the event celebrates the pioneers of the past who had the courage to stand up and shed light on the inequalities facing women in sport. It also highlights the important role forward-thinking men played in opening doors and empowering female athletes and coaches to continue to demand opportunities and combat traditional stereotypes. Finally, I firmly believe that forward steps such as these not only have a positive impact on the women and girls following behind us, but also on the men and boys.
“In my 10 years of involvement with women’s football, one of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard came during a casual conversation I overheard among the children and friends of a former teammate.
“Apparently, there had been debate on the ball field in one boy’s neighborhood as to whether the boys would let girls play with them. Although they decided to let the girls play, some of the boys began to bicker over whose team was going to get ‘stuck’ with the girls. Out of the blue, the little boy chimed up: ‘My aunt plays football and those ladies really know how to hit! I want them on my team.’ It was then that our true impact struck me. We are not only serving as role models for our daughters; we’re changing perceptions and breaking down stereotypes before they can transform into fixed beliefs for our sons and nephews. It’s this next generation of inspired women and enlightened men who are going to change the world as we know it!”