“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”
August 31, 2019, was the draft day at the Las Vegas, Nevada MGM Grand Hotel.
Women from across the country were seeking an opportunity to become a part of the newly formed professional Women’s Football League Association (WFLA). The WFLA has established both Western and Eastern Conferences created to provide women an opportunity to compete, be paid, and be recognized in football’s professional sport. The WFLA is fighting for women’s equality in a male-dominated sport that traditionally pays men players millions of dollars to complete. Benicia High School Graduate, Gabriela Johnson is a part of this history in the making and was drafted to play football for the WFLA franchise.
Johnson’s journey leading up to draft day included receiving a personal invite to Los Angeles, California, where women across the country could demonstrate their athletic skills on the field during a combine. The combine allowed players to showcase their athletic abilities on the field by participating in various football drills in the presence of team owners. Johnson stood out amongst the athletes and received an invitation to the Las Vegas draft event.
Johnson’s interest in athletics began in her elementary school years.
Johnson tried softball, but gravitated towards basketball. As a point guard, she spent several years playing for the National Junior Basketball League, including All-Star competitions and traveling teams. Johnson was also a member of the Benicia High School Basketball team. Johnson took up both piano and violin, and by middle school, she had learned to play the trumpet before fully engaging in sports. Johnson was a member of Benicia Middle School Marching Band, Drumline, and Jazz Band.
When Johnson entered Benicia High School, she was a Wind Ensemble, Marching Band, Jazz Band, and Drumline member. Her mastery in music led to an opportunity to join the Solano County Honor Jazz Band. At the beginning of her senior year in high school, Johnson decided to focus her final year on playing sports. She joined the Benicia High School Water Polo, Badminton, and Wrestling teams, and competed in the senior game of Powderpuff.
After graduating from Benicia High School, Johnson attended Mount Diablo College.
During this time, Johnson came across an opportunity to try out for a women’s football team in Sacramento. Johnson recalls not having any equipment and reaching out to one of the coaches at Benicia High School. “I want to thank Coach Craig Holden for helping me temporarily secure football gear when I was first starting,” says Johnson. Johnson secured a position as a running back for the Sacramento Sirens. The following season Johnson went on to get an opportunity to play for Capital City Rage. During both seasons, Johnson played against the Portland Shockwaves. As the Sirens and the Capital City Rage were going through a transition, Johnson got invited to play a few games with the Portland Shockwave. The Sirens, Capital City Rage, and the Portland Shockwave are all semi-professional women’s teams and compete in the Women’s Football Alliance, full-contact, tackle football. After a few weekends of driving back and forth from Benicia to Portland, Johnson packed her bags, She relocated to Portland, Oregon, to officially play for the Portland Fighting Shockwave and continue school.
Johnson’s decision to take advantage of opportunities led to the creation of her football reel, which captured the WFLA franchise owner’s attention. “I had just had my best season of football. One of my amazing coaches helped me out by putting together a highlight reel,” says Johnson, “I sent it to the WFLA and got a call to come out to the combine in Los Angeles. I did really well there, and it landed me a top winning spot in the league.”
Johnson shared some encouraging words to other women and young girls who may have an interest in football. “It’s definitely not just a male sport, so they say. It’s a lot of fun, so please give it a try if there’s any little part of you that is interested,” Johnson says, “Once I started playing, it became my favorite sport to play and watch.”
Johnson drafted first round, second pick.
The WFLA was originally scheduled to begin in the summer of 2020, but due to COVID-19, the launch was postponed. When the league officially begins, Johnson will play for the San Francisco Sharks team. Meanwhile, she will be working in her field of expertise, Software Engineering. Johnson encourages others to educate themselves about this movement of women across the country gearing up to play, including the National Football League. “Get more involved, educate yourself about women’s football, because there’s a ton of women that live for the sport,” states Johnson.