What Eastbay is doing with their new ConqHER initiative is perhaps the most ambitious and important endeavor in the history of sports. That is not hyperbole. This goes beyond the routine symbolism that is usually associated with the women in sports conversations. Eastbay is changing the game. That’s where Jen Welter and Santia Deck get to flex their muscle. These women have triumphed in an area that was created specifically to exclude them. As this movement gains steam, the lines of gender in sports are not only getting blurred, they’re being erased altogether.
For Jen, being here is nothing short of miraculous. She said when she was younger, that she wasn’t even permitted to have the dream of playing professional football. Fast forward to present day and she has ascended to the highest heights of the sport, after making history as the first woman to coach in the NFL. But she doesn’t just want to be a woman in a man’s game. She wants the world to know that women play football too. Ironically, she and her teammates let the world know just that, by winning the IFAF Women’s World Championship in 2010 and 2013. And not only did they win, they utterly dominated. Welter likened their dominance to the Dream Team and with good cause – as Team USA did not allow any opponent to score during their championship run.
The fact that this achievement was not celebrated, struck a chord with Jen. She wondered to herself, “If this doesn’t make people care, then what will?”. Welter says, “Women’s professional football is the best kept secret in sports.” Well the secret is being let out now. She believes that conquering football is the final frontier for women in sports, as football is the sport that seemed most inaccessible to women. Jen says if we can win here, we can win anywhere. And she might just be right. Women have pretty much found their way into majority of other sports. They have even been able to gain fame and notoriety in combat sports, like boxing and MMA. But the universe wants to be stubborn with football for some patriarchal reason.
But Jen’s resolve is equally as strong. She wants girls and women to know there is no field they don’t belong on. Her Gridiron Girls Camps provide the opportunity for young girls to be fully immersed in football and have the chance to fall in love with it. And when they hear Jen’s story, it opens up a whole new world they never thought was attainable. It’s not often you get to hear a woman tell stories of success at the highest level of the sport. Jen recognized the lack of a cohesive movement for girls in football. With her individual efforts and things like the “ConqHER” campaign, it’s important that this push even exists and continues to flourish. “Companies and brands are starting to acknowledge the battle that women are fighting in the trenches.”, Jen says. The shift is definitely not going unnoticed and it’s surely gaining momentum everyday.
This movement is so impactful because of the women behind it. Just like Jen, Santia Deck is making history, while simultaneously leading the charge for equality in sports. Growing up in Houston, she was surrounded by football from all sides, and football in Texas is practically a religion. Her brothers played and she was right there in the mix with them. But unfortunately, the inevitable reality was that football wasn’t an option for her. Or at least that what she thought. She went from not having any options within the game, to being the first woman in history to sign a multimillion dollar football contract. While I’m sure she never thought this was possible, she was unknowingly preparing for this moment her entire life.
Women now having the opportunity to take care of their families and find their own financial freedom and success through football is a monumental breakthrough that Santia does not take lightly. She says this entire process has been a surreal experience, as it also comes with a ton of responsibility. Women’s fight in sports takes on multiple societal issues as well, and people like Santia can’t just compartmentalize their efforts. When you take on the fight for women’s equality in sports, you have to take on the entire issue of women being marginalized in general. Women don’t have the luxury to pick and choose their battles.
Santia’s trailblazing path has been nothing short of groundbreaking. When every step you take rewrites history, immense pressure comes with that. She said she stays grounded in her faith and relies on her family and those close to her, to keep her calm. But she is here for the long haul. Santia says it’s definitely time for women athletes to take over. And with companies like Eastbay getting behind them, they will finally get the recognition they so richly deserve.
The world is starting to take notice. Santia is one of the the marquee athletes for the WFLA (Women’s Football League Association). Their season was thwarted by COVID, but they will be kicking things back off in 2021. Words cannot express Santia’s excitement for this league. She says that by having this platform, they will finally be able to showcase a high quality product that will shock the world. Once people see what these women are capable of on the field, any preconceived notions of them not belonging in the sport will be eradicated.
If you talk to female athletes, you’ll find that they don’t want any preferential treatment. They just want to be respected for the work they put in. They don’t want to be viewed as visitors in the sports realm. It’s time to recognize women’s sports as simply sports. The separatist tones that pollute the conversation surrounding women in sports are slowly fading away. And women like Santia Deck are spearheading that initiative.
Santia owns her own sports apparel company, Tronus. She is the first female athlete to have her own sneaker company. Even in this historic endeavor, Deck is focused on inclusion. She wanted to be sure her shoes were marketed as unisex and not just women’s sneakers. I asked her why she decided to make this distinction. She said, “My platform is important and I wanted to cater to everyone.” Santia has a huge following that consists of men and women. She wanted to make it known that her products were for everyone. This is a dream come true for Santia, as she never thought she would have her own shoe company. Yet, being an athlete her entire life, she couldn’t help but imagine what the Air Deck’s would look like. To be able to bring those dreams to life is an indescribable feeling.
The ConqHER campaign is an example of what needs to be done for women to get their just due in the athletic arena. While there has been some gains in other sports, there is still extremely minimal focus on women in football. But Santia, Jen and Eastbay are looking to change that. Once they give you the opportunity to see what these ladies bring to the game, people will have no choice but to allow women to take their place on the gridiron.
Much thanks to Eastbay, Jen and Santia for their time. This endeavor is so important, not only in reference to sports, but to women in general.