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Adrienne Smith, The 5-Time WFA Champion and Harlem Hip-Hop Tours Founder, Eyes Empowerment For Women

-Written by Jiji Ugboma

Cover Photo: Bertram Knight | Styling: Ashley Scarboro

Adrienne Smith wants it on record that “football is female.” She is unapologetic and unwavering in her stance. When the current wide receiver for the Boston Renegades of the Women’s Football Alliance is asked about her challenges as a woman playing a male-dominated sport, she instead corrects that notion. “Football is not a male-dominated sport. We have girls and women playing this sport in large numbers, not only in the United States, but throughout the world”.

Sitting across from her in the conference room as we start to chat about her career, Smith has a welcoming and friendly personality. She’s enthusiastic, yet grounded with an amiable countenance. You can tell right away she dedicates herself to her sport and that this dedication and authenticity flow into other areas of her life.

Smith, a now five-time WFA (Women’s Football Alliance) champion (who won the ‘chip again on July 10th versus the Minnesota Vixens, 32-21) and gold medalist with the US Women’s Tackle National Team, always had a love for the game. As a kid, she would watch football with her parents and do her own tackle practice with her teddy bear named Ginger. “I would run and tackle Ginger over and over again,” she reminisced amid laughter. After over a decade of playing professional football (not counting tackle practice with Ginger), she has nothing but love and appreciation for the sport. “It has been a wonderful journey, both on and off the field.”

And so, her challenges as an athlete have nothing to do with being a female football player, but instead with learning complex plays and staying in physical and mental shape. In a candid moment, she shares how the pressure to keep up, especially as a successful athlete, can be challenging. “When you become what some consider to be a great in the sport, you have to keep challenging yourself. You have to keep pushing, learning, and doing more so that you can stay at the top of the heap.”

Growing up in Alexandria, Virgina, Smith says her parents—who were both academics—instilled in her the importance of education and a strong work ethic. “My parents told me education is power and the way to get up and out in this world. So I always knew I would get a master’s degree.” Smith recalls seeing a baby picture of herself in a Harvard t-shirt gifted to her by her dad, “the expectation was to get a master’s degree from an Ivy league school.”

And that is exactly what she did.

Sporting an MBA from Columbia Business School and an undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Smith never doubted that she would make something of herself. “My parents instilled evergreen qualities in me that continue to help me succeed in new arenas.”

Photo: Bertram Knight | Styling: Ashley Scarboro | Suit: Trouser9 by Jhirae Ruth

Her parents’ influence has a recurring presence throughout her career, even after their passing. Upon getting nudged by a friend, Smith agreed to participate in a football tryout that unexpectedly gave her some reprieve from grieving her mom who had just passed. “During that tryout, I was the old Adrienne Smith,” she reminisces. “I felt optimistic, happy, and joyful. It was the first time since my mother passed that I did not feel pain.” After that day, she continued playing and 10 years later, has gone on to achieve great success as one of the top female football players in the country. For Smith, the game of football holds deep significance. “I was in a very dark space, and football saved my life,” she explains. “It introduced me into a new realm of possibility.” Smith is now a nine-time all-star for Tackle football and boasts multiple championship rings. “Tom Brady is the only active player with more championship rings than I have.”

Smith’s success isn’t contained within the stadium. Off the field, her entrepreneurial projects all share a resounding theme: representation matters, “if you see a CEO, entrepreneur, Ivy league student, or athlete who looks like you, then you’re more apt to believe you can achieve it too.” She recalls the eye-watering story of what led her to start Gridiron Queendom — a resource and community for girls who play and are fans of football.

“We (the ​​2010 US women’s national tackle football team) had just won a gold medal in Sweden. Right after that, we went to Dallas to help coach Play 60 flag football clinics for Superbowl XLV, and it was a hit,” Smith says proudly. “I remember a father came up to me after his daughter had participated in the clinic. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me and the other ladies for coaching his six-year-old daughter. He said, ‘My little girl loves the Dallas Cowboys. She loves football, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know that she could play football, but now you all have shown me that she has a place in football.’”

Photo: Bertram Knight | Styling: Ashley Scarboro

hat encounter stayed with Smith and led her to create Gridiron Queendom. “No one else was addressing the fact that girls and women love this sport. They don’t just want to wear some pink jersey. They want to play, they want to coach, they want to experience this sport and all its majesty,” she maintains. In 2020, the NFL revealed that about 47% of NFL fans are women. Yet, just this month, the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, hired the first Black woman team President in the league’s history in Sandra Douglass Morgan.

Smith’s entrepreneurial efforts don’t end there, as this pro-athlete is multidimensional and full of surprises. “I have a passion for languages,” says Smith, who revealed that she lived in Japan for three years.

Photo: Bertram Knight | Styling: Ashley Scarboro | Black Blazer Dress: AVNU by Nareasha Willis

Her college major was in Japanese with a minor in film, and her MBA from Columbia Business school was focused on media and entertainment. Her love for media led her to co-found Harlem Hip-Hop Tours with a classmate from Columbia. She lights up with excitement as she talks about it with a broad smile across her face. “Harlem Hip-Hop Tours is dedicated to providing EDUtainment! Education through entertainment.” Initially established as a tour company taking Japanese tourists around Harlem, the company now provides field trips and workshops for students in grades 3 through 12, from schools in the Tri-State area. Over the last decade, Harlem Hip-Hop Tours evolved to its current format when Smith got a call from Harlem Park Middle School asking if they could organize a school trip. In true Adrienne fashion, she put together a curriculum and field trip itinerary in less than 48 hours. From then on, Harlem Hip-Hop tours focused on school field trips. “I love working with kids,” she says. “I love teaching and just really exposing young people to possibilities.”

Photo: Bertram Knight | Styling: Ashley Scarboro

Off the field, Smith attributes her success to implementing the same dogged determination and discipline as in sports to her entrepreneurial and community-focused projects. “It is important to surround yourself with people who want to win and are willing to put forth the effort to achieve that goal,” Smith emphatically expresses.

Besides winning more championship rings and continuing to be impactful in her community, Smith has a few other exciting projects in the works. Her football card game, Blitz Champz, has an upcoming partnership with a major football-related organization. “It is like the football version of UNO and very fun.” And in true trendsetter fashion, Gridiron Queendom now has an NFT collection dedicated to women’s football with another one in the works. With a twinkle in her eye, you can tell she has happy anticipation about this new partnership, “We have another NFT collection coming soon that will be in partnership with a major brand. I can’t release the name yet, but it’s going to be the first of its kind, and I’m very excited about that.”

Photo: Bertram Knight | Styling: Ashley Scarboro

As is a pattern with everything she does, Smith does not hold back in her expectations of herself and women’s football, and so she is not frugal with her predictions. “I’ll say that in the next 10 years, the US women’s national flag football team will have won its second Olympic gold medal,” she predicts. “The first one will be in 2028. The next one will be in 2032.” And for the sport in general, she is just as hopeful.

Photo: Bertram Knight

“I want to see a unified league for women’s football in the next 10 years. A league that’s fully established, well funded, and televised nationally,” Smith envisions. And we know that once she sees it, the visionary makes it happen.

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