Titans’ Derrick Henry builds bridges with girls at STRIVE

First impressions

The NFL’s best running back Derrick Henry made a new record during the Titans 27-17 win against the Packers last week. Henry, whose elite talent was on display in front of a national audience Thursday night, rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown — while also catching two passes for 45 yards (that included a key 42-yard grab on a Titans’ scoring drive). The coup de grâce came as Henry threw a three-yard touchdown pass (his second completion of the night) to tight end Austin Hooper and, ultimately, served the game-winning score.

Henry became the first player with at least 20 carries, two completions, a rushing touchdown and a touchdown pass in the same game since 1983 when the immortal Walter Payton did so. Like Payton, Henry is the best running back of his era, and his performance Thursday night should have added him to the list of players being considered for league MVP.

But Henry isn’t worried about accolades for himself, though. The former Heisman Trophy winner is, instead, focused on helping the Titans continue their 7-3 winning streak. 


A perfect fit

Henry represents excellence both on and off the field of play.

Recently, Henry spent a day building bridges made of Popsicle sticks meant to teach engineering design concepts and help female middle school students at STRIVE Collegiate Academy see the value of pursuing their interest in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and related fields (STEM+).

“Sport matters but what really matters is leveling the playing field for girls,” Henry said during a recent one-on-one with Dr. Kim. “I’m blessed to be able to use my platform to help Play Like a Girl deepen its work toward making this happen in our lifetime.”

Challenge accepted

Henry did what is second nature on the sports turf outdoors. Yup, he tossed a few balls and taught the girls a few winning moves. But he didn’t stop by for football alone. Henry was on campus for Play Like a Girl Day – and a fun and meaningful lesson in STEM+.

With the help of Henry and Bridgestone Americas employee volunteers, students learned how to engineer bridges using Popsicle sticks. Students worked in small groups to design and build a bridge to withstand weight, be sturdy, and with the least amount of resources possible. As a team, students were challenged to take initiative in proposing, designing, building, and evaluating their finished products to their peers. Each bridge was evaluated on effectiveness, design, creativity, and aesthetics.

This STEM+ lesson explores basic engineering concepts as well as challenges students to design and build their own versions of contemporary bridges. This project has been used in the past as a way to develop innovative bridges and has impacted the design of many bridges we see today. 

Yes, Sport Is a Pathway to STEM

Meet Jesse Lovejoy, one of the speakers and executive mentors at our Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19.

Welcome to the first installment of our Women’s Leadership Speaker Series, where we’re introducing you to some of the inspiring leaders who will be sharing their passion with us on March 19. First up is Jesse Lovejoy, who is director of 49ers EDU and the 49ers Museum (yes, those San Francisco 49ers). 

We know what you’re thinking, why would we feature a man as the first subject in our speaker series for a women’s summit? We’ll tell you why. Jesse’s work with the 49ers speaks to everything we care about here at Play Like a Girl—and he is our founder and CEO, Dr. Kim’s mentor. Plus, it’s easy to be inspired by the career journey that led Jesse to this important work which has included numerous partnerships with Play Like a Girl in recent years. 

Since 2014, 49ers EDU has leveraged football as a platform for teaching lessons in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to over 300,000 Bay Area students. The program also encourages physical activity while teaching important skills through the values of teamwork. Kids flex their engineering muscles by designing their own helmets in the state-of-the-art tech wonderland that is the 49ers Education Center. They get schooled in the laws of physics on the field of Levi Stadium, watching what happens when they kick or throw a football at different angles. Oh, and did we mention these programs are completely free of charge for every single student?

Jesse will be a speaker at our Women’s Leadership Summit—and is featured in our Executive Auction. He is one of many executives, investors, elite athletes and entertainers who will be donating their time to mentor summit attendees who bid in the auction. We hope you’ll be just as inspired as we are by his passion for leveraging sports to ignite the spark for STEM and the career journey that brought him to where he is today.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: Looking back on your career so far, what is one of the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

JESSE: It was, without a doubt, changing my career trajectory from one without purpose to something that has meaning. I quit a career that I was good at and I left an industry I was succeeding in, and I started over. The risk was huge, but I overcame it by believing in the power of doing something that mattered. I also had the support of my wife and family who encouraged me to believe in myself and what I could do. All of that, plus a lot of hard work and dedication to the people around me, brought me to where I am today.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: You’ll be speaking at the Women’s Leadership Summit about the important role male allies play. What do you believe is lacking in your industry in terms of opportunities for women? And what do you see as the way forward?

JESSE: Well, if you’re talking about pro sports you can pick a million different verticals in which representation for women is woeful. If you are talking about education or community relations in sports, it’s better but there’s still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to executive leadership positions. Across the board, the sports industry is categorically lacking in virtually every way when it comes to opportunities of merit for women to contribute and succeed.

I guess the place I’d start is to try to reframe the discussion a bit from one that is focused on equity (solely) to one that also articulates the significant business benefit and value that comes with a more balanced organization from a gender standpoint.

Let me be clear: Achieving gender and pay equity in the workplace is MASSIVELY important on its own. That said, there are also scores of studies that speak to how much an industry, business or department stands to gain (financially, operationally, culturally) from having an office that accurately reflects our society and has women in positions of leadership and value within an organization.

If we can diversify the discussion and the way this issue sits in the minds of decisionmakers at companies, we may start to see greater success short- and long-term. 

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

JESSE: Keena Turner, a 4x Super Bowl champ and the man who led the charge in hiring me for my position with the 49ers, told me, “You are going to have a lot of bosses.” That resonated in a very literal sense when I joined the 49ers. But I quickly realized what he was actually trying to tell me: Be of service to everyone—and not yourself—and you will ultimately be successful and build the kind of relationships that you want in your business and personal life.”

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: If you could, what career advice would you give to your younger self?

JESSE: That’s easy: Be kind to everyone. Find purpose in your work. Believe in yourself.

Follow Jesse on Twitter to keep up with the good work he’s doing at 49ers EDU. And don’t forget to secure your spot for the “New Rules for a New World” Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19. Proceeds underwrite program scholarships for girls in need.

US-Mexico-Nicaragua International Sports Programming Initiative

The US-Mexico-Nicaragua International Sports Programming Initiative, organized by WorldChicago and the Women Win Foundation, is a US Department of State-sponsored exchange program that aims to promote sports as a tool for development, particularly in women's empowerment, gender equality, and youth leadership.

The program is currently looking to enroll aspiring and non-elite coaches and administrators of Girls Sports (aged 20 and over) from the United States in a virtual exchange, scheduled to run from November 6 to December 18, 2020, and a tentative in-person exchange in Chicago, scheduled to occur in May 2021.

American participants will benefit from the following perks:

  • FREE access to a series of expert-led workshops on coaching and sport administration for social change from November 6 - December 18, 2020.
  • Double-Goal Coaching Certification from the Positive Coaching Alliance at ZERO cost.
  • Meaningful cultural and professional exchanges with athletic professionals from Mexico and Nicaragua.
  • Recognition as program alumni of the US Department of State and exclusive access to alumni support resources.

If you are interested in promoting equal opportunity in sports and expanding your professional network in Latin America, apply today at: https://bit.ly/3hrhBwl

Questions? Contact Brian Peckrill at [email protected] or Thi Nguyen at [email protected].

Women's Flag Football Is New College Sport

We push our girls to challenge themselves in every way possible including sport. We know that sports help girls develop skills for the classroom, workplace and life. The confidence, work ethic, leadership skills gained from sport have proven benefits for women far beyond the field of play.  

Needless to say, we support school-age girls in sport. Because of this, we're equally excited by opportunities that arise for young women in collegiate athletics.

This past June, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), National Football League (NFL), and our partners at Reigning Champs Experiences (RCX) collaborated to make women’s flag football an official collegiate sport. 

The NFL reports to CNN that fifteen schools plan to start women's flag football teams. They will begin competing in Spring 2021. There will be scholarship opportunities for players at those institutions. 

“This is an example of what the next 100 years of football can look like," NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent tells CNN. "Women leading the efforts, not just as fans, not just as moms supporting their boys. Now, young ladies could actually compete and earn a scholarship like they have seen their brothers and their fathers do for so many years."

Over the past few decades, participation among girls in organized flag football at younger ages has increased significantly. An unprecedented number of high school girls switch from other sports to flag football. Therefore, the opportunity to pursue the sport collegiately gives women the chance to take the love of flag football to a whole new level. 

Toni Harris is a defensive back for NAIA school Central Methodist University in Fayetteville, Missouri. In 2019, Harris became the first woman to receive a football scholarship to play a skill position at a collegiate level. She believes that this development offers young women a lot of new opportunity, and we agree. 

Harris tells CNN, “I think...the future of football is female. Not only is this [decision by NAIA] opening doors for girls to compete at the collegiate level, it's opening up more doors for maybe the NFL to start a WNFL one day.” Harris and others believe that the establishment of women's flag football as an official collegiate sport is a big step toward gender equality and equity in sport. 

Many great barriers still stand in the way of a perfectly level playing field. The NAIA is a much smaller governing body of collegiate athletics than the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Because of this, women who wish to play flag football collegiately will be limited in their choice of programs. Furthermore, media attention and money dedicated to women’s sports continue to severely lag that given to men.

Nonetheless, this remains a major milestone in the fight for equality. This development breaks barriers. We are optimistic that this move signals more exciting opportunities for women in sport. 

Titans 5K Tailgate Party

Play Like a Girl is the featured Charity Partner for the 2019 Tennessee Titans 5K. So we've formed a team!

Register at titansonline.com/5K. Lace up and run/walk the course as a member of Team Play Like a Girl. Then, join your teammates and members of the Play Like a Girl Board of Directors for our exclusive tailgate party following the race at 9:00 a.m. You'll enjoy food, drinks and prizes at this invitation-only event.

We will be distributing team tees and taking group photos before the race (Stadium Gate 1 at 7am).


Beyond Innovation

Over 2.8 million STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs are expected to go unfilled this year alone and those filled won't be filled by women. While women continue to make gains across the broader economy, they remain underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders--just like in sports.

Though numbers are growing, only 27% of all students taking the AP Computer Science exam in the United States are female. The gender gap only grows worse from there: Just 18% of American computer-science college degrees go to women. And that's in the U.S., where many college men proudly self-identify as "male feminists" and girls are taught they can be anything they want to be.

Advancing gender parity in the workplace requires that we start early and design programs to tap into the potential of young women to contribute further in this vital sector. Middle school girls in Nashville are learning STEM lessons through the context of sport thanks to our programs at Play Like a Girl. They also are mentored by professionals whose day-to-day work crosses the lines of STEM and sports.

To do this work, we're continually developing our knowledge and partnerships through experiences like Beyond Innovation 2018 which brought together 200 global leaders from across the sports, tech, nonprofit, education, business, entertainment and development landscape, to create innovative cross-sector partnerships that use the global appeal of sport to advance STEM.

Former NASA astronaut and the first woman of color to go into space, Dr. Mae Jemison reminded us that we all have a responsibility to be beneficial to society as we are all connected and have all the answers we need to solve the world's problems. The renowned physician, engineer, social scientist, entrepreneur and educator suggested that “hands on, hearts on, minds on” is “the best way to teach STEM.” And we agree.