Ms. Collette Smith is quite an engaging figure to say the least, but don’t let the ‘Ms.’ at the beginning of her name fool you. Yes, she’s a lady, but she’s also as much a football player as anyone on the other side of the gender gap. In our initial meeting I was quite impressed; it’s more than obvious that she takes her physical health seriously, and her love for her female athletes, simply can’t be measured.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Collette, during which time she told me more about her background, more about the New York Sharks and her overall love for football.
DSG: How did your journey with the New York Sharks begin?
Smith: It all began one day after hanging on my couch and got a call for open New York Sharks tryout. By the grace of God , I woke up that next morning and decided to give it a shot. Not only did I do that, I actually made the team. I had a great three years playing for the Sharks and was surprised when they asked me to be a defensive back coach, once I retired.
DGS : You stated that you only played three years. What’s the average lifespan for a female professional football player?
Smith: It varies for many reasons. There’s a girl on our team – Karen Mulligan – she’s played quarterback for New York Sharks for 14 years. There are other girls our team [that have] played for eight years, there are other girls that played for five; it all depends. The biggest problem: on top of playing, the girls also have to hold down a 9-to-5 job, and fit in football around that. Where as with the men, their primary job is football; as women, we don’t have that luxury. My time was cut short do to lingering injuries. I gave it my all in the three years I played.
DGS: your team went undefeated last year. Who are the star players on your team, who are the standouts?
There’s a couple of star players on the team; our star wide receiver would be Maggie Natel, and our star defensive backs are Nhadi Brown and Jewelle Grimsley; our star quarterback is Karen Mulligan. Our star defensive end is Delmara Reese (we call her ‘Reese the Beast’). I would have to say we have about eight to ten standout players.
DGS : What are some challenges you see Women athletes having in today’s sports culture ?
Smith: Its extremely important for women to feel like they can do anything they put their minds on. Society likes to paint a picture that women sports aren’t on the same level as their male counterparts. That’s not the case. We work hard, we make the same sacrifices, if not more. At the end of the day, we just want our respect.
DGS: How important is Women’s sports ?
Smith: Women deserve a platform to show out. I rather hear stories of women excelling on the field then being home doing nothing. Sports help build self esteem, and a lot of women lack that. Women want to be valued just like their male counterparts. In 2015 we partnered up with the Make a Wise Foundation and became wish granters. Our goal is to bring young women and girls hope and strength. That’s why women’s sports are needed, mainly to show little girls , female athletes can be role models also.
DGS: What advice would you give to women wanting to participate with a football team?
Smith: Girls wanted to participate for years, women’s football is where they are allowed. Unfortunately, the NFL does not have a place for us. There is not a true place. We want to help women whether it is coaching, playing football, behind the scenes and game day. It is my duty and the Sharks duty to spread the word to pursue the sport of football. We want to open girl’s mind to endless possibilities.
DGS: Before we wrap this up, Ms. Smith, is there anything else you’d like to share? A message you’d like to convey to the ladies out there – and to the men, for that matter?
That we’re not trying to compete with the men. We’re women; we just want to [play] football for women, and be a positive example for young girls. That’s [why] we are openly looking for sponsors so we can keep moving forward. We also have a foundation for girls: it’s called Fins Up Foundation for Girls.
Fins Up For Girls is a non-profit organization that empower young women and girls: it helps them believe in themselves, to know their self-worth, to love themselves and respect themselves and others. And through hard work and determination, they can do or be anything they want – and that’s part of what the New York Sharks and the Independent Women’s Football League is all about. Impossible is nothing.