Story by Liesel Schmidt | Photography by Jonathan Thorpe
Like many things in this world, football has long been a sport dominated by men, a part of the boys’ club where anyone with estrogen was only allowed through administrative roles. But women all over the country are just as fired up over pigskin plays and flock to the 50-yard line with the fervency of any red-blooded male, so why aren’t women more represented on the field?
Fortunately, times, they are a-changing. Inclusivity has become more than just a buzzword and football has joined the changing face of sports. All female teams—and even male teams with some female players—are breaking the barrier, filling stadiums with fans and proving that women can play with all the strength, agility, ability and passion of a 300-pound man.
Part of that changing narrative is the DC Divas, a team founded in 2001 with the express mission of empowering women by “leveling the playing field” in sports. The organization teaches life lessons through sports, while also improving physical and mental health and speaking a powerful positive message to current and future generations of young women and girls.
Over the past 20-plus years, the DC Divas had a habit of making history. On the high school football level, they produced the first female head coach in the nation and a number of other players became coaches and team administrators as well. The Divas won three National Championships and enjoyed more victories than any other franchise in the history of football. They are now in their second year of operating as a non-profit to better serve their players and community partners with a literacy program and workforce development initiatives. Both on and off the field, these Divas are about the empowerment of all women—and that’s a beautiful thing.
Lois Cook | Wide Receiver
As a member of the DC Divas since 2004, Lois Cook has worn many hats—both on and off the field. Currently filling the position of wide receiver, Cook also played quarterback, tight end and special teams, making her a valuable player to have on the roster and one with a great deal of versatility. “I’ve always been athletic,” Cook notes, though that may be somewhat of an understatement.
When she’s not kitted out in her gear, Cook wears the title of Vice President of the DC Divas in addition to working as a TV host and social media marketer. Clearly, she thrives under pressure and loves a challenge. Being a Diva, however, has expanded her world in valuable ways. “I love having a family outside of my family,” says Cook, who has lived in the DC area her entire life. “Being on the team has allowed me to meet people who have become some of my best friends.”
“It’s important to open the door to the many opportunities and invaluable lessons that sports teach us and to close the door to stereotypes and disparities."
She also appreciates her role as a woman in football. “What we’re doing is important because women and girls really can do and be whatever [they] apply themselves to,” she says. “It’s important to open the door to the many opportunities and invaluable lessons that sports teach us and to close the door to stereotypes and disparities. Changing the face of football is necessary because so many young girls across the country want to play, but don’t always see that they are welcomed in this sport. Girls belong on the field too.”
In her spare time, Cook loves to produce and edit videos, shoot pool, bowl and, surprisingly, "slide down the stairs on a blanket,” she laughs. Obviously, Cook doesn’t take herself too seriously and she brings that spirit to the team.
Tara Mason | Offensive/Defensive Lineman
It only took seeing the team practicing at the facility where she worked for Tara Mason to want to join the DC Divas. Over the past four years of playing the gridiron, she’s held her own as both a defensive and offensive lineman. “I’ve always played sports and I love creating memories with the team, working hard and learning the game,” says Mason, who works as the Director of Lifestyle at the St. James, which entails overseeing Super, Awesome & Amazing, the brand’s active entertainment center; Courted, their medical spa; Strivers, their retail store; Vim and Victor, their restaurant and their events business. “I saw the team practice one day and I was super interested in becoming a part of it. I asked the coach if I could join, and here I am.”
"I love playing football and I believe being a woman in football is just amazing. I can’t wait until there are more of us.”
As a woman in football, Mason knows she’s breaking barriers and loves being part of that change. “As far as being a female in football, some believe women should play, others don’t,” she says. “Either way, I don’t care. I love playing football and I believe being a woman in football is just amazing. I can’t wait until there are more of us.”
Busy though she may be with work, the late-night practice times and frequent practices at the St. James make fitting the Divas into Mason’s schedule relatively easy. Having lived in the DC area since 2018, she found a great social circle with her fellow Divas and her love of the sport can be seen in her plays on the field. In her downtime, Mason loves to spend time with her family, relax at the beach or pool and watch sports on TV.
Faith Robinson | Defensive Back
Having been a DC Diva for two seasons, Faith Robinson may still be a relatively new face on the field, but the “COVID rookie” brings a lifetime of athleticism and tons of heart to the team. “I was born as a premature baby weighing just under four pounds, which caused some health challenges such as my lungs being underdeveloped,” says Robinson, who plays defensive back with plans to join the wide receivers next year. “My father asked the doctors what the best way was to build my lungs without relying on pharmaceutical intervention and was told that it was keeping me active. So that’s exactly what my father did. [He] had me swimming before I could walk, which led to always playing a sport as I got older.”
"We understand that, without community involvement, these young girls will not know who we are. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’”
As much as she may love the physical challenge of the sport, there are other rewards for Robinson. “I like being labeled as a role model for the legacies currently looking up to not only myself but to my teammates and all women professional football players out there,” she says. “I also love that my team is so community driven. We understand that, without community involvement, these young girls will not know who we are. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’”
A civilian employee of the Navy, Robinson manages a recreational facility that caters only to single active duty Marines and sailors in addition to organizing and creating fun activities on and off base. Outside her time on the field, her hobbies include bike riding, hiking and kayaking.
Coach Rich Daniel | Team Owner/General Manager
Looking at the trajectory of Rich Daniel’s life, sports—specifically football—has always been a focus rather than a facet. The passion he brings has been instrumental in leading him to where he is now, as Owner and Team President. “Anything that resembled an athletic career ended in high school and then I transitioned into covering teams at the University of Maryland, which led to a career covering sports both locally and nationally,” says Daniel. “I started covering the Divas’ first home game as the Sports Director at ABC-7 in 2001. After that story ran on the evening news, we followed them through 2002 and 2003, producing an independent documentary. When I left ABC in 2003, I began to help the team with PR, sales and community events. In 2004, I became the team's General Manager, which eventually led to me becoming the owner of the team just prior to the 2019 season.”
“The opportunity to make a positive impact on others is incredible.”
Part of Daniel’s strength as an owner and GM comes from the six seasons he spent working in the NFL for the Washington Redskins (now known as the Commanders) from 1993 to 1999. “That time provided invaluable insight into the business and operational aspects of running an organization and all of those experiences are a part of who I am today,” he says.
A true lover of the game, Daniel also loves being part of the changing face of football. “The opportunity to make a positive impact on others is incredible,” he says. “We have such a wide range of backgrounds and experiences that make up the nearly 600 Divas alumni. Part of my role has always been helping bring recognition and respect to this incredible group of amazing women and men who continue to exemplify greatness through their talent, dedication, sacrifice and true grit all for the love of the sport and the opportunity to finally participate in it.”