Jo Overstreet wants you to know: ‘Football is for me’

Jo Overstreet has been playing soccer all her life. As an adult, she has consistently found her way into a sport that offers precious few opportunities for women.

At the level of Pop Warner, the football game is played more easily. The best kids play both offense and defense, surviving the entire game so they can pull off tackles, catches, and throws no one else can. Joann “Jo” Overstreet was one of those kids, and as she walked onto the field with the boys, she pulled and dropped like a cursor.

“I started playing on the waist tackle team when I was 11,” Overstreet told FanSided. “I was the quarterback, I was the receiver — I mean, I literally did everything.”

“When I first got on the team and they told us to compete and attack someone, I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ There weren’t any rules for tackling back then, so I was like, ‘Oh, I think I should just pick them up and throw them away?’ And I did, and they said, ‘Oh yeah, sign her up.’ Ever since then I’ve been like, ‘Oh, football is for me.’ I started playing tackle and we became city champions.”

In her hometown of Killeen, Texas, Overstreet gained a fearsome reputation—even among her own teammates. Nobody pitched in like Jo.

“They were actually very afraid of me,” Overstreet said. “After that, no one wanted to compete or train against me.”

Those who knew what Jo could do didn’t want to face her, but seeing a girl on the field made some players feel like they could take advantage of her greatness. Her teammates did everything they could to stop her and pave the way, stone in hand.

“Which I thought was super cool as a kid, and now as an adult I see that they protected me,” Overstreet said. “Everybody, I was the only girl back then, so they wanted to come after me. “Oh, she’s soft, we’re going to spank her. we will beat them We will contact you. We’ll get to the quarterback in a minute. Let’s beat them up.” So what I saw was the response, my teammates would come out and have my back. They just knocked people over while I was running with the ball, I was like, ‘Move! Move! Move!. And just pushed her out of the way, and I was like, ‘Man, I love this.’ I love this team camaraderie that we had. When I was young they had my back all season. I mean, we became city champions. Having that experience tackling with the boys…”

Playing with guys didn’t mean Jo Overstreet was “one of the guys”.

As she detailed how her teammates had struggled to have her on the field, Jo paused to remind herself what it was like off the field. Everyone loved having her on the team, but at the end of the day she was still reminded that she wasn’t one of the guys.

“I felt lonely being in my own dressing room. I wasn’t allowed to be in the boys’ locker room until you know they’re all fully dressed and they’re like, ‘Okay, Jo, you come in.’ In such moments I felt lonely. I felt, ‘why aren’t there any girls playing this sport?’ and it was for a long time. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that there were opportunities for girls to play soccer. But having this opportunity to play young is what made me the athlete and the person I am today.”

In the 1990s there were no widespread girls’ soccer leagues, even in the state famous for its youth soccer zeal. Jo’s mother wouldn’t let her play high school football, so she focused her passion on basketball. Overstreet was a “near-perfect point guard” for the University of Houston Lady Cougars, which led to a professional basketball career abroad. Injuries gradually prevented her from performing, and Overstreet admits she was depressed about giving up basketball.

Staying close to the sport, she took a job as a coach and physical education teacher at Durham Middle School in Lewisville, Texas. Shortly after getting that job, she played in a flag football tournament, and the rest led to Jo making history as one of the first two-time consecutive gold medalists on the US national soccer team. During her 12-year playing career, Overstreet has traveled the world including Mexico, Brazil and Panama. Playing in Mexico for the first time, Overstreet experienced something she had never experienced as a female athlete.

“When I first stood on the field [in Mexico], I left the field and there was a line of people waiting to give photos and autographs and as a female athlete I’ve never seen that before,” Overstreet said. “Since then, I’ve wanted to make it my goal to travel the world and give back to these different communities that just want us to be there and give them the knowledge.”

Mexico, which has a burgeoning NFL fan base, immediately saw a parallel between Overstreet and a prominent NFL wide receiver. When asked about the comparison, Overstreet started clapping and cheering.

“Yes, OBJ, let’s go!” she cheered.

“The first time I made it big was when I went to Mexico, everyone was like, ‘Lady OBJ! Lady OBJ! Lady OBJ!’ So everyone calls me Lady OBJ and that was back when he had hair like that [gestures to mohawk]. I didn’t actually have any color in my hair and then people started calling me ‘Lady OBJ’ and I just had to pin the hair and add the color but he’s my favorite player.”

“Everyone always says I have their playstyle,” she continued. “What he does – and I’m actually doing it now – what I love about him is when he catches the ball, it’s not about the catch. It’s about what he does after the catch. And that’s kind of my focus as an athlete. Not just catching the ball because I’m a wide receiver, but what are we going to do? I don’t catch the ball just to catch it, I catch it to score. And that’s the mentality I have.”

It makes sense that Jo would appreciate the focus in Odell Beckham Jr. because that’s always the athlete she was. Overstreet has been blocking out the noise ever since these 11-year-old boys thought she was an easy target.

“Personally, I’m very good at ignoring sounds, I’ve always stayed focused. I was a collegiate athlete, I was a professional athlete and now I play soccer. People will say what they want to say. Anyway, it’s all about what you want to do, it doesn’t matter what people say. And I’ve always been the type of athlete who ignores the noise.”

“I was dominating football when I was 11, so since then I’ve realized that I’m a little different from everyone else. I was faster, I was stronger. And I didn’t know why. But I’m surrounded by very positive, encouraging people all day. And I think that’s so important, and I’m doing the same in my life.”

“I try to follow everything he does. I love his work ethic. And I’ve noticed that he always has to deal with a lot of noise and he stays focused. I really love that about him. Because a lot of people always give him so much headwind, you know he’s too big. He’s this, this, and that. And I just love how he stays focused and just keeps going and being himself, and I think that’s important for a lot of people to understand. Don’t worry about what anyone has to say. Just be yourself, be the best you can be and that’s it.”

The young girl who became city champion with her beloved youth league tackle team is now a two-time gold medalist playing at the World Games this July. Jo might even play flag football at SoFi Stadium when flag football becomes an Olympic sport by 2028. Overstreet has come this far by positively manifesting that dream, and she still has work to do.

And if someone tries to get in her way, she has the same reaction as in head-to-head combat: face her and watch.

“I’ve never had a problem with someone telling me I can’t play the sport,” she said. “As a man, if someone were to say that to me, I would just say, ‘Stand in front of me and let’s prove it.’ I’m not a big talker. I’ll show you what I can do instead of talking about what I could do.”

The original artwork for this article was provided by Elliot Gerard. Follow him on Twitter (@elliotgerard) and Instagram (@elliotgerard), or check out more of his work at Heartlent Group.

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