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DETROIT (AP) — Verdell Blackmon showed up for a recent NFL game and left no doubt who she was cheering for that afternoon.
Blackmon's hair, makeup, nails and dress were bright hues of blue, and Detroit Lions Women of the Pride was printed on her black shirt.
The Lions season ticket holder was one of about 50 women in the team's Women of the Pride group who attended a pregame party at Ford Field and witnessed Detroit's first win of the season against Minnesota last month.
Earlier this season, the Women of the Pride had access to the turf before Detroit played at Green Bay and watched the game against the Packers on TVs in a club at Lambeau Field. The group will gather again later this month for a football clinic at Ford Field.
“Female fans are not recognized like they should be in the NFL, and it's about time that's starting to happen," Blackmon said. “We love our teams just as much as the guys do."
The NFL is starting to recognize that.
More than half of the league's 32 teams have female fan clubs, according to the NFL, and that doesn't count Philadelphia and its annual Eagles Academy for Women.
“With women making up just under half of the NFL fanbase, it’s so important for women, at all age ranges, to feel that they belong in football, whether that’s through playing, coaching or fandom," said Sam Rapoport, the NFL’s senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “Though there’s still work to be done across the league in this space, the clubs that do have programming for women and female fan clubs are showing that representation matters and women are and will continue to be an imperative part of the NFL.”
Buccaneers co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, a champion of diversity and inclusion, has made the group a priority. The franchise has made star tight end Rob Gronkowski, coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht available to the women for on-field drills and Q&A sessions and hasn't charged a fee for Women of Red membership.
“This sport brings people together, and we take great pride in the connections we’re continually building with our female fans," said Tara Battiato, Buccaneers vice president of community impact. “Whether through our annual Women of Red events, or how the organization is advancing gender equality through girls' flag football, college scholarships and career development programs, we believe that football is for everyone.”
In Detroit, female fans paid $129 for Women of the Pride membership and received a ticket for the game against the Vikings, along with a pregame gathering, other events and networking opportunities.
“It’s important to us to reach our fans in all the ways we can and there was an opportunity to tap into what is oftentimes an underserved and powerful subset of our base," said Emily Griffin, Lions vice president of marketing.
Jacki Jameson was all-in when she received an email from the Lions, even though she lives nowhere near the Motor City.
“I drove 2 1/2 hours to get here and I couldn’t be happier actually," Jameson said, standing on the turf at Ford Field after getting access to the Lions’ locker room. “This is great, meeting ladies who have the same love for the sport that I do.
“It’s pretty wonderful that they give people this opportunity to go behind the scenes because there's a lot of female fans out there that honestly deserve some extra perks after being overlooked for so long."
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Larry Lage, The Associated Press