Black & Blue
By Greg Bach
Growing up in Central Florida in the 1960s, Andra Douglas loved sports more than anything but like millions of girls navigating adolescence in the pre-Title IX era, opportunities for competing in organized athletics were lacking.
“It was maddening, it really was,” says Douglas, author of BLACK & BLUE: Love, Sports and the Art of Empowerment. “I love it that girls are able to participate more today, but it is bittersweet because what I would have given back then if I could have had this opportunity or had something to strive for.”
Instead, she had to settle for mostly neighborhood games to fulfill her craving for sports and competition.
“I have loved sports ever since I was little, even though there wasn’t really any venue for me to play,” she says. “I wasn’t allowed to play Little League or anything like that, just neighborhood games with the boys. When I got to high school, I played everything they had, which wasn’t much.”
Douglas went on to attend Florida State and won a national championship in rugby; she played for the New York Sharks, a women’s professional football team that she owned for 19 years; and she founded the Fins Up! Foundation for Female Athletes, which strengthens at-risk teens’ self-esteem through participation in team sports.
We caught up with Douglas, a Women’s Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019 inductee, to talk about her youth sports experiences, playing professional football and fulfilling a dream, and impacting young lives through her foundation:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What was that experience like when you were finally able to take the field with the Sharks?
DOUGLAS: It was incredible. I remember the first time all of us suited up because most of us had never put on pads and helmets. Once I got the pads on and the jersey over it, and put on my helmet, I felt like I could have taken on a semi-truck. It was amazing. It was a very freeing experience. Oddly enough we were trapped in all of this gear, but it was such a release and so much fun to get out there and play. And I really felt indestructible. It was great.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s the key message you hope readers take away from your book?
DOUGLAS: Don’t give up and keep living your dream. It may not turn out exactly the way you envision it, but if you keep going and you persevere and have that passion then something is going to come of it. Just keep pushing, keep dreaming and enjoy the ride. Don’t look so much for the end result but understand what you are going through and enjoy the ride.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What was it about football that grabbed you at a young age?
DOUGLAS: Everyone thinks it’s such a brutal sport, which in some ways it is, but on the other side it’s like a live chess game. There are just so many facets to it that I found intriguing when I was little.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: So many young athletes get down on themselves when things don’t go their way, so what’s your message to them?
DOUGLAS: Believe in yourself – it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It’s always nice to win, of course, but what did you learn from this loss? What could you have done differently? Acknowledge your feelings and your emotions and be aware of how you handle things. It’s a wonderful thing when you can really start pinpointing how you feel and how you react and then that will guide you in the future.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What led you to buy the New York Sharks?
DOUGLAS: I bought the team because no one else did. The franchises were for sale and being in the middle of New York City we thought surely someone is going to buy this team but at the last minute still no one had bought and we were going to be excluded from the league and I just thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to do this. This is my passion and I’m not going to let this opportunity get away.’ So I took the money out of savings and bought it – but it was because I wanted to play, not because I wanted to own the team. It was just for the passion to play. I was already 40 so my athleticism was in the rearview mirror, so to speak. I did play, and I did get to live my dream, and it was pretty amazing.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What type of work does the Fins Up! Foundation do?
DOUGLAS: Through the Fins Up! Foundation we teach the sport of football to girls but intertwined in all of that we also teach life lessons such as self-esteem, communication and self-worth. All of these things that you can take everywhere with you – you take it from the field right into the corporate office, into a family, all the things that are just so important for leading a successful life.
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