Next Woman: Fouzia Madhouni, NFL mentor in the Global Sports Mentoring Program

Women are rising throughout professional football, carving out positions of power in a space that has been exclusively controlled by men for almost too long. We’re seeing more women breaking barriers in sport, but what are the stories outside the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? The Next Woman Up series aims to answer those questions. While the Questions and FAQs are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for women of influence to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:

Fouzia Madhouni

Job: NFL mentor in the Global Sports Mentoring Program To see also : Eagles announce changes to football operations and scouting departments.

When were you first exposed to American football?

I think it was 2013 or 2014. I was studying at university and I came across my female classmate wearing a football helmet. I was interested in the game and asked her if I could join, that’s when it all started.

What is it about American football that drew you in?

Since I was very young, I was always attracted to the American culture. I was quite shy and spent my time at home with my brother watching MTV – which was accessible in Morocco – or movies. I knew about American football from TV and it seems very bad to see someone with a helmet and shoulder pads. I had never seen women playing American football in movies, so I wanted to know more about it.

Did you have any difficulties when you started playing?

So I started playing tackle football. It was an escape for me, because people don’t know who you are when you’re wearing a helmet. There were a few women I was playing with but we didn’t have much of a chance to play. We were in the team pictures but no one gave us access to play. We were paying to be part of the team, and it was very difficult for us to have the same opportunity as the boys. We were mostly on the sidelines watching the men play the game, and we were more like cheerleaders than football players.

The women were practicing together during that time, and I was bullied a lot because I didn’t come from the accepted social class. I remember I was wearing feathers from a thrift store and one girl who came from a rich family bullied me. I think because she and others told me I couldn’t play because I was a woman of the wrong social class, I was driven to play. I always wondered what they thought of me. From there, I started a flag football team. I was playing and training, and we were able to make it work.

I saw in your NFL 360 feature that you were diagnosed with cancer shortly after. What kind of perspective did that experience give you?

It was very difficult. I was watching football as a competitor and I wanted to be the best and be the first woman in Morocco to do this. Cancer made me look at football differently. I had never thought about what football had done for me until then. After I had cancer, I started to appreciate the little things in life — like walking. I started looking at football from a new perspective. Instead of seeing it as a competition, I saw it for how it can impact life.

When I was doing chemotherapy, I always played football in the clinic because I thought it was the way I could escape. I always told my mom that I was going to start a football academy after treatment. My family didn’t believe it because I was in very difficult circumstances at the time. Walking was the biggest dream out there.

When did you start We Can Morocco? How has the organization grown?

It has grown significantly compared to many organizations in Morocco. Before the NFL documentary, we only had one We Can academy. Now we have two academies for girls and boys in Morocco. We educate through sports, providing English and French courses, leadership classes and other things. We also launched a program called the No Barriers Project, where we provide access to flag football for children with Down syndrome.

Our aim now is to give girls in rural areas access to flag football as a competitive outlet, but we also want to help raise awareness of things that are considered taboo to discuss in Morocco, such as sexual harassment, and ensure that they know when something is not right. right We want to give them a safe space.

That’s really great work. What is your ultimate goal for your organization?

I would love to expand the business throughout Morocco. Our 10 year vision is to have a We Can Morocco type organization in Egypt and across the African continent. This is the goal now, and we hope we can expand to the Middle East, as well.

Last year, I worked with the American Football Federation of Egypt to organize the first flag football tournament in Africa called the African Flag Women’s Cup. It was right after I finished my first cancer treatment. There were four teams in the competition – two teams from Egypt, the Eagles Athletic Club and Cairo Bears, the Moroccan Jaguars and one American team, the Philadelphia Phantomz.

It was very emotional for me, but it was an eye opener. Instead of seeing football as a sideline player, I realized that I wanted to see it from the top and help organize and lead. We clearly discovered our mission and vision for the We Can academies after that competition.

When and how did you find out you were going to be a part of the US State Department and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program? And what was your reaction to the news?

About a year ago, I was in Morocco and I got a call from the US Embassy in Morocco, and they told me that I was nominated to represent women’s sports for Morocco in the Global Sports Mentoring Program. A lot of people were nominated and somehow I was chosen.

My first experience with the program was through Gatorade and it was virtual. That was the first time I was involved with the NFL, NFL International, NFL Films, etc. They were a huge source of support for me during that mentoring program.

This year, I received an email from the program that said I would be mentored by the NFL and the Green Bay Packers and that it was going to be in person. I was very happy when I read it because it is an honor and a dream to be mentored by one of the biggest sports organizations in the world. I’m very happy to be here, and I’ve learned a lot about the NFL. I also learned about some of the initiatives that are impacting lives, including my own.

What was the biggest thing you learned during your two weeks in Green Bay and New York?

I never knew the Green Bay Packers were a publicly owned organization, and I was very impressed by the work the Packers do in the community. I was able to coach in the Packers Football Outreach Camp, and I enjoyed every minute of it because it was real for the kids, and that’s what I’m doing in Morocco.

He inspired me a lot, and I have so much respect for the organization and what they do as a football team and in the community. It was cold, but I really enjoyed it. I want to go back but maybe in the summer.

In New York, the program ensured that I was introduced to the right people and contacts. I learned a lot about marketing and how I can help my business grow in Morocco. I also learned from NFL International about the football opportunities that would be helpful for the youth in Morocco. One of my dreams is to grow as a coach as well, so they provided me with tips and resources to improve.

Do you have any mentors who have helped you along the way?

My first mentor is my mom even though we have our differences because we are from different generations. I’m pretty stubborn but I always knew I didn’t want to be average. That was scary for her. But I always believed I could do it. If God has given me these thoughts and plans in my mind, it means that He knows that I am capable of doing them.

Now I have many mentors but one of my first mentors is Amine Zariat, a former professional basketball player who was part of a program called the International Visitor Leadership Program, which is similar to the Global Sports Mentoring Program. He then started the first Moroccan basketball academy, which has the same mission as I am doing now with We Can Maracó. He opened a lot of doors for me and I really appreciate him.

Now that you are a mentor to young women in your organization, what advice do you give them?

It’s not always about having a great time and laughing when things are okay. It’s showing up when things aren’t right. It’s about supporting each other and our mission to make a better future for these girls and our community.

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