I Went To The NFL Draft — Here’s What I Learned

Photo: Courtesy of Associated Press.
Football is something that has been a part of me since birth. Both of my parents were University of Georgia alums, and I’ll never forget the awe I felt when we took family trips back to the campus to cheer on their alma mater. It was a sea of black and red in the stadium, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.
When I ended up attending the school myself, it only affirmed that childhood passion — I loved the sport, the coaches, and screaming my head off in a stadium decked out in my teams' colors alongside 100,000+ other people. So when P&G asked me to come out to the 2018 NFL draft in Dallas and cover a panel called The Huddle: An Intimate Conversation About Women & Football, I was thrilled — especially because it’s a topic that doesn’t get spoken about enough.
In addition to two female representatives for the NFL, the panel also featured family members of a few of the rookies being drafted this year, which offered another unique glimpse into a rarely seen side of football.
Read on for the four key things I learned at the NFL draft.
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Photo: Courtesy of Associated Press.
Women make up almost half of the NFL fan base.

While football fandom tends to be viewed as a boys' club, 45% of NFL fans are actually women. It’s a stat that was brought up at the start of the panel and driven home not only by the speakers (all of whom were incredibly inspiring women who want to see more opportunities for women in football) but also by the audience, which was made up of a sea of incredibly passionate female fans. This panel really reflected the fact that the women are there, and we need to acknowledge and recognize the female fan base even more.
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You will have those moments when you walk in and you are the only woman in the room.

We need to encourage more women to get into the fields, the locker rooms, and the exec boards.

Football's female fan base is clearly there — and they’re more than capable — but how do we get more women into this male-dominated industry? One of the panel’s speakers, Gina Scott, VP of the NFLPA, said the key is, “Going out and recruiting more... We have a responsibility when we get in certain positions to also reach back and open it up and try to encourage more women.”

Tracie Rodburg, VP of the NFL, added, “You will have those moments when you walk in and you are the only woman in the room. But you have to know you were invited into that room. You’re supposed to be in that room. So you sit at that table. And you do your job.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Associated Press.
Family plays a huge role in the draft process, whether it’s your biological one or not.

Perhaps the biggest theme that permeated my time at the draft was family. There’s an immense amount of love and support from the players' biological families, but the bonds formed between players are just as strong. These draft prospects are also gearing up to meet their new football family, in whatever city or team that may be, so that sense of community only continues.
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When you go through a situation like this, it can either tear you apart or bring you closer.

The process of going pro is just as emotional for the families as it is for the players.

The families of draft prospects have watched these players grow from kids tossing a football in the backyard to seeing their dreams realized, and it’s clear that it’s just as emotional for them as it is for the players.

Destiny Fitzpatrick, sister of prospect Minkah Fitzpatrick, said that when it comes to the challenges of going pro, she relies on her brother as much as he relies on her. “When you go through a situation like this, it can either tear you apart or bring you closer, and it’s definitely brought us closer. Minkah is definitely my strength.” Fitzpatrick also emphasized the importance of reminding yourself that every step is a blessing and that “every sacrifice you’re going to make will be worth it.”

The draft is also a huge learning experience for parents and others who come out to support the players. Debbie Williams, mom of prospect Connor Williams, noted, “Connor is shy and sits back and watches and listens to everything. And as a mom, you want him to go out there and get it — everyone wants to say hi to you, wants a picture with you. But he shies away from all that. And one of the hardest things I’ve had to remember is: let him be who he is.”
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Play to check out some highlights from my conversation with these inspiring women.
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