I’ve previously written about women’s pro football but thanks to social media, I got the chance to interview Carley Pesente, owner of Northeastern Nitro Women’s Professional Football Team in the Women’s Football Alliance. Carley is also a linebacker for the Nitro and has been playing women’s tackle football for 13 years. She is also a professional boxer.
Nitro players come from all walks of life and from every profession, including lawyers, homemakers, students, personal trainers, and teachers. In addition to highlighting their talent on the field, Nitro players are connected to their community through supporting various organizations.
Michelle: How has your own professional sports experience enriched your role as owner of Northeastern Nitro Pro Women’s football team?
Carley: I have been with a number of organizations and have seen how they are run. When I was putting together the bones of the Nitro, I wanted to develop the team into one of the top organizations in women’s football; one that other organizations could emulate.
Michelle: Have you been passionate about sports your entire life and if so, how did you zero in on what sports you wanted to take to the professional level?
Carley: Sports is my life. I have been playing some form of sport for most of my life whether it’s softball, ice hockey, boxing or football. I have always said, “If I were tragically injured and could not play anymore, I would not want to exist.” I know it sounds morbid, but if I died on the playing field, I would be happy knowing I died doing what I love. When I was younger, I was smaller, but once I got into 8th grade, I exploded in size. At that point, I started focusing on the physical sports to take advantage of my size.
Michelle: Who in your life has been the most influential in nurturing your love of sports?
Carley: I really did not have any one person who nurtured my love of sports. It was more my own doing. I had respect for many of the athletes that I saw on TV and they inspired me to do more. Three in particular were big inspirations for me: Martina Navratilova, Larry Bird and Ray Bourque.
Michelle: You have quite an impressive professional career. What has fueled your drive to excel as a woman athlete?
Carley: All of our lives, women are told that they should be passive; to embrace their femininity…that competition was for the boys. Until 1972 and Title IX, the opportunities for women in sports was limited, but now I have to chance to show little girls that they can attempt to do anything they want. There is no limit to what they can accomplish if they want to try.
Michelle: Now that you’re a team owner, in what ways do you develop women entering professional sports for the first time? What is your best advice for success?
Carley: This is actually my fourth year as an owner. I previously owned the New York Nemesis, a team In the IWFL. The team was based out of Albany, NY which is a good distance from my home. In my entire playing career, I have never played on a team in my own backyard. Being close to home with the Nitro has been a Godsend. When speaking with new owners I would say try and do what you feel is best for your athletes, treat them with respect and give them the opportunity to give suggestions on how they can make your program the best.
Michelle: Tell me about some of your future goals.
Carley: My future goals include making the Northeastern Nitro one of the model organizations in women’s sports–to make it successful not only on the field, but in the pocketbook. Another goal is to win a women’s SuperBowl. I have been in three and like Fran Tarkington, the former QB of the Vikings, I am 0-3. Eventually, I would love to coach a Division I-III women’s ice hockey program.
Michelle: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Carley: The biggest challenge that our organization has faced along the way is that we are not taken seriously. When you first tell people you play/own a women’s football program they say, “Oh Lingerie Football” and I always say, “No, real tackle football.” The only difference between the men’s game and the women’s game is the size of the ball, the size of the players and the speed of the game.
The other biggest challenge is finding sponsors. Whereas organizations/businesses swarm to sponsor men’s sports no matter what they are, they are hesitant to support women’s sports for whatever reason. Personally, this year I sent out over 300 letters to prospective sponsors and only received responses from maybe ten-fifteen at the most. And of those, we only received one major sponsor.
Michelle: Most people believe that it’s impossible for female femininity and playing professional women’s pro football to co-exist. How do you respond to that assumption?
Carley: We have lots of very feminine girls on our team who exude that “it” factor. I am not in that class so it is hard for me to answer this question. I do know that once they are off the field they are very competent and sure of their femininity.
Michelle: What advice would you give to a young woman who’s considering going professional in her sport?
Carley: Work hard at whatever sport you want to become successful in. Put in the time to train and make yourself into a player that your peers can look up to. Learn about the history of your sport; know the movers and shakers of your sport who have made that opportunity for you a possibility. I can’t tell you how many pro boxers I know who can’t tell you beans about former boxers. These people worked a long time ago to make it possible for you to pursue your dreams.