Luann Peterson


The Mason Spirit: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of George Mason University

Making It to the Big League

Mason alum plays professional football—like a girl

By Lynn Burke

George Mason has had its share of athletes move into the professional ranks. Former Patriots are on the rosters of professional baseball, men's and women's basketball, and soccer teams. Now, Mason alumni can boast of a professional football player among their number. This athlete doesn't play for a National Football League team; however, she plays for the D.C. Divas, a National Women's Football Association (NWFA) team.

Luann Peterson, B.S. Public Administration '87, has been the starting safety at every D.C. Diva's game since the team's inception in 2001 as part of the three-year-old NWFA—a dream come true for someone whose favorite sport has always been football.

"I played tackle in my neighborhood growing up, but my mom didn't let me play organized football," Peterson says. "In a sense, my first chance to play was as the quarterback in high school powder-puff flag games." An all-around athlete, Peterson was a member of the cross-country, basketball, softball, and spring track teams at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Va., lettering 14 times.

Peterson continued her involvement in athletics when she came to Mason, playing intramural basketball and football and working part time in the university's Sports Information Office, helping out with men's and women's basketball and women's softball. She is still involved with Patriot sports, working as the official scorer for the women's basketball games.

In the early 1990s, Peterson started playing coed flag football. From there, she found a women's league. In October 2000, when two of her friends decided to try out for the fledgling NWFA, so did she. "We all made the team, and it has led to one of the best experiences of my life," she says.

The Divas assistant coach, Brian West, B.A. Government and Politics '89 and former Patriot track and field standout, first met Peterson when he coached her in women's flag football. "She has such a great mind for the game that I was able to put her almost anywhere on the field," he says. "That knowledge has transferred well in the full contact NWFA."

Thirty teams strong, the NWFA plays its games in the spring instead of the fall when the men play. This spring the Divas ended its 2003 season by winning its division and its first playoff game, but losing in the second round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia Phoenix.

Another difference from the men's game is that the women's game is not quite as profitable. Peterson made only $194 last season. "We aren't paid a salary," she says. "Some of us get very small commissions." Fortunately, football isn't Peterson's only source of income. She works for Help Hospitalized Veterans, involved in fund raising for the nonprofit organization that sends therapeutic craft kits to hospitalized veterans and active duty military.

Money obviously isn't Peterson's motivation for being a Diva—it's her love of the game. "I love the camaraderie. Being a part of a team and working toward a goal together is an incredible experience," she says. "Finally, just pushing my body into shape to compete in such a demanding sport is so gratifying.

"When I first thought about playing women's tackle football, I thought, 'My boss and my parents aren't going to think that's very feminine.' Now, I'm so embarrassed that I thought like that."

To learn more about the D.C. Divas, visit the team's web site at www.dcdivas.com.