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NFL Wide Receiver: Women Need More Pro Softball Opportunities

Dede Westbrook was surrounded by softball excellence on a regular basis while playing wide receiver for the University of Oklahoma.

But the 2016 Heisman finalist didn’t have much interest in the sport, and never attended a game at Marita Hynes Field.

In March, during his offseason with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Westbrook decided to go watch Oklahoma play Oregon State. He was quickly swept up in the atmosphere, and realized what he’d been missing.

“It was a great time, and I saw first hand how talented and hardworking these individuals were,” Westbrook told Softball America. “It actually planted the seed for me as to what’s next for these athletes? They had the God-given gift to be great, but were lacking the platform to showcase that.”

Westbrook, 25, created some buzz in the softball world over the weekend by posting a tweet saying he thought women should have a professional league.

He was watching Oklahoma play Northwestern in the NCAA Super Regionals on television, and realized careers would be ending for many of the seniors on the field.

Once people responded telling him there was already a league, Westbrook clarified his thoughts.

He knew about National Pro Fastpitch, but didn’t think the six-team league received enough attention or support to sustain many professional dreams.

“It just did not sit well with me that there is so much talent yet such a small amount of opportunities for these women to continue playing,” said Westbrook, a fourth-round draft pick by the Jaguars in 2017 and Oklahoma’s first Biletnikoff Award winner. “I personally just don’t see how that’s fair because these women have been working since adolescence to perfect their craft, only to have to find a new career path because of a lack of adequate space in a narrow six-team window. It just made me want to become a voice and see what I could do to change perception.”

Westbrook doesn’t profess to have the answers many have long been seeking when it comes to making women’s professional leagues more viable.

“As far as ideas go on growth for the league, I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little ignorant to it all. I’ve started doing some research and talking to a few individuals with more knowledge than myself,” he said. “For now, I’m going to use my platform to raise awareness and give these women a voice. I’ve even gone as far as looking into owning my own team, and I’ll actually begin attending games personally. I’m very excited about that.”

No matter how people viewed his post on social media, Westbook is happy it generated more discussion about the subject.

“It got people talking, which was my intended goal,” he said. “I never claimed to be an expert on the situation, so of course some people like to play on my lack of knowledge. But I’m more than willing to learn all I can to better the situation. I simply wanted to become more diverse in this field and use my reach to positively influence people that worked their entire life to succeed in this field.”

As the father of three children, including two young daughters, the broader societal implications are deeply personal to Westbrook. He wants every professional opportunity open to his girls no matter what path they choose in life.

“My children are my whole world, so it’s very important for me to do all I can to make their future as bright as possible,” he said. “I just see such a gap in the industry between women and men, and I was always taught that in order to see change you have to be the change. If I’m going to teach my children that principle, then I have to walk it like I talk it.”

odicci alexander photo by jade hewitt.jpg

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