Female football fans create a community to inspire

Payton Sfreddo ’24 establishes Sacred Heart’s first football club and energizes her peers to pursue their own passions


Zara Black '23

The Sacred Heart Football Club teaches students about football while having fun.

The television clicked on, and CBS sports filled the pixelated screen.  The face of Ms. Lesley Visser appeared.  She stood in front of a crowded football stadium, readying herself for the night’s events.  As she took her place at mid-field, she became the first woman broadcaster for Monday Night Football.  As her voice projected into homes across the country, she inspired a future generation and paved the way for women hoping to make their mark in male-dominated fields.

Just over a decade later, the voice of junior Payton Sfreddo rang through the Lennie and John de Csepel Theatre as she spoke passionately about the newly-formed Football Club at Sacred Heart Greenwich and its goal to connect more young women through football.  She inspired the girls sitting around her just as Ms. Visser had once inspired many women around the United States 24 years ago.  

Payton Sfreddo ’24 enjoys the time she gets to spend with her family at tailgates and football games.  Courtesy of Payton Sfreddo ’24

From a young age, Payton immersed herself in this popular sport by attending flag football, college, and National Football League (NFL) games.  The strong sense of community and passion she found at tailgates and in student sections captivated Payton from early on in her life.  However, she found a gaping hole in its foundation: it lacked the presence of women on and off the field.

“I have spent a lot of my 16 years at and around the wonderful sport of football, and when I was really young, I don’t remember ever seeing a woman near an NFL game, except for maybe sitting in the stands,” Payton said.  

Men have historically dominated football.  This expanded the gap between male and female fields of work, creating a barrier in the world of sports.  Although the gap has recently shrunk with the increase of female involvement in these fields, it still remains today, according to The Wall Street Journal.  Through the creation of the Football Club at Sacred Heart, Payton hopes to provide students with the opportunity to understand the game and encourage the community to become more involved in football.

“Football is a male-dominated sport and yet it is our country’s most popular one,” Payton said.  “How unfair and inequitable is that?  I am not suggesting that football should be a professional female sport in the next few years, but if we educate young women about the rules and strategy and fun it has to offer, then maybe we as a community can build a broader base of support for the sport to one day make that a reality.”

One law that has influenced the sporting industry is Title IX, which is a law that falls under the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits sex-based prejudice in programs the federal government and schools fund.  Title IX has influenced many sports and remains a frequent topic of conversation in modern discussions as new ideas and topics relating to gender inequalities in the sporting world arise.  Ms. Meghan Duggan, the current president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, believes that Title IX has established the foundation for women’s sports to thrive but has only initiated the desire for equality in sports.  Ms. Duggan further states that examining the varying perspectives around the inequalities between genders in the sporting world is necessary to effectively address the injustices that still exist, according to si.com.

Payton aims to contribute to the movement that works to educate women and girls about football and build an open environment that welcomes everyone.  She finds inspiration in the current discussions surrounding inequality in the sporting world.

Students in the Heart Football Club learn more about American Football and what the game has to offer through scrimmages. Courtesy of Payton Sfreddo ’24

“Football can be fun and incredibly collaborative and I think it is important to level the playing field and provide women with exposure to this community-building sport, just like Title IX has done for women’s sports at the collegiate level,” Payton said.

As new laws and activities stem from the work female athletes have done to create gender equality in the sporting world, women break down barriers and make history.  Women like Ms. Visser leave a legacy and allow women like Ms. Shannon Easton, Ms. Sarah Thomas, Ms. Katie Sowers, Ms. Kathryn Smith, and Ms. Toni Harris to influence a sport that has shut its doors to many for centuries.  Girls can look at Ms. Easton and Ms. Thomas and aspire to be influential referees, or to Ms. Sowers and Ms. Smith and dream of coaching a team in the NFL.  They can also find inspiration from Ms. Harris and see that it is possible to play football in college and make a difference in the sport they love.

“If we expose more girls and young women to football and all that it has to offer, perhaps we’ll have more women watching the game, which would lead to the appeal of having more women working in the NFL,” Payton said.  “While there have been improvements in a few of these areas, mainly appearing on television sets, we have a long ways to go.” 

Featured Image by Zara Black ’23