Washington just won the Super Bowl!
Wait, you didn’t hear? Did you miss the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue? The endless parties? Crowing from VIPs? Oh wait, that didn’t happen.
The league’s defensive player of the year, Tia Watkins, is back in a suburban office cubicle this week, filing benefits proposals, getting paperwork signed and eating a tuna sandwich at her desk because going to the Super Bowl last weekend left so much work to catch up on.
Because when you’re a woman, even winning the Super Bowl is different.
Last Saturday, the D.C. Divas — the city’s other professional, full-tackle, less controversial and vastly more successful football team — won the Women’s Football Alliance national championship. And get this: The other team vying for the title? Dallas.
Imagine the madness in the nation’s capital if the men’s football team had won the NFC East championship by beating the Dallas Cowboys?
But because these champions don’t have Y chromosomes, it’s crickets.
There are 40 teams in the Women’s Football Alliance, including the Seattle Majestics, the Chicago Force and the Miami Fury. The Divas went undefeated all season.
To celebrate their Super Bowl victory, the women had a little party at the airport Sheraton in Los Angeles. The trip was an adventure for them all. Some of the Divas had never been on an airplane. They saw Los Angeles, Hollywood, the beach.
Then, Watkins, who is 34 and lives in Columbia, Md., flew home so she could pick up the kids from her mom’s and jump back into her routine. She gets her 8- and 5-year-olds up, dressed and fed and takes them to the babysitter. Then she’s right back to work as a sales coordinator for Unum in Columbia, where she helps coordinate benefits for many of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies.
Watkins was just one of the many Divas who went back to work this week after winning the national title. Other Divas are police officers, social workers, teachers, a White House aide, stay-at-home moms, IT specialists.
America has some amazing female athletes, as Serena Williams, Katie Ledecky, Carli Lloyd and Ronda Rousey have reminded us this summer. But when men are around, it’s hard for most female athletes to command our attention.
Case in point: There will be a ton of coverage of the Redskins’ inconsequential preseason game against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night.
By contrast, the most coverage women’s football gets is the ESPN Lingerie Football League, which had an “accidental nudity” clause in its player contracts. It was recently re-branded “Legends Football League,” with team names such as the Los Angeles Temptation and very little wardrobe change.
The Divas, by contrast, are real players who deserve our support.
My kids and I spent a season a few years back going to their practices and their games, and I was impressed with the crunching, hard-hitting and complex plays. But I’m no expert, so I brought my husband, a former high school offensive tackle and kiddie football coach, to see if they were as good as I thought.
“Yeah, these plays are right up there. It’s a high-quality game,” he said.
At the practices, I saw the women run to the sidelines to check on their kids, who were doing homework while Mom ran coverage routes and read offensive formations. The players pay for most of their own travel. The ones who can’t afford it get help from others and alumni players.
So why isn’t Washington buzzing about our Super Bowl champions?
When I dropped by my neighborhood hardware store this week, all the talk was about the Redskins, a woeful excuse of a team that went 4-12 last season and is rated by some sports books as 100-1 to win the Super Bowl this season.
“Did y’all catch that Dallas game?” I asked the hardware store quarterbacks. “They got them 30-26 for the national title?”
They just looked at me.
Watkins would love some of the hype — and some of the money — that the men command.
“We put in the same effort and work, if not more, than any other professional player,” Watkins said. “And then we go to do our real jobs.
“I just wish that we could get more notoriety, that we could be marketed better, that we could be on TV or have certain games played where the NFL games are. Like maybe they can have us play a little during an NFL halftime. All those fans will watch that at halftime, maybe they’ll want to come see us play.”
This is so sad. But also inspiring.
Because these women — going out in the summer dog-breath heat to practice and playing at high school football stadiums across the country, leaving it all on the field, then icing down while making dinner for their families — demonstrate something special.
This is love of the game at its most pure.
And it’s something that those who get paid millions for the same thing seem to have lost long ago.
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