Growing up in a sleepy Pasco County cattle town, Andra Douglas wanted little more than to play football alongside the neighborhood boys, who huddled and battled in a big field near her house every after-school afternoon.
Eventually, they accepted her, but rarely stopped reminding her that one day, she’d have to remember she was a girl – even though she was faster than most of them, and could throw, kick and tackle better than they could, the NFL would never accept her.
“Someone else might’ve said well, that dream is done,” Douglas explains. “But somehow, I just kept dreaming. I had no idea. It was just something I had a passion for, and by God I was going to do it, come hell or high water.”
The dedicated non-conformist went on to become a sports pioneer – in 2000, she acquired the New York Sharks, and with Andra Douglas as quarterback, they became the longest-running and winningest team in women’s football history.
“A pioneer? No, that didn’t cross my mind,” Douglas says. “A guy at the NFL called me that once. The Sharks had the first-ever Junior Player Development program; as we hung up the phone one day he goes ‘You know what, Andra? You’re a real pioneer.’
“I thought wow, that sounds so old. Like I should be in a covered wagon or something.”
Her 20 years of living and breathing and winning with the Sharks left her with a powerful message, which she’ll share at Friday’s talk An Evening With Andra Douglas at the Tully-Levine Gallery, inside the Arts Xchange building in the Warehouse Arts District.
“My message is: If you have a dream, it may not turn out exactly like the dream you have envisioned,” Douglas says. “But just keep pushing, because something good will happen. And it may even be better. I think this was even better.”
She’ll also discuss her book, Black & Blue: Love, Sports and the Art of Empowerment, which is part memoir and part fiction (but mostly memoir), the story of a football-mad girl growing up on a Florida cattle ranch, hunting and fishing with her daddy. Her family, in fact, supported her gridiron dreams: Her grandmother bought her very first football as a pre-Christmas gift.
In Zephryhills, Douglas says, “it was just such an idyllic childhood. There was nowhere you could go where you shouldn’t, really. I remember one time my friend and I found this injured duck at Zephyr Lake. I just dropped my bike right there, left it, and walked the duck home. You were safe. You could go out on Halloween and be gone till all hours. No one came looking for us. No one was worried. It was a great little town.”
Along with her passion for sports, Douglas was an artistically-minded kid – she took drawing and painting lessons, and later developed a keen interest in photography.
Once she retired from sports, Douglas turned her laser-focus back to her art. Friday’s attendees can get a look at Black & Blue, an exhibit of her mixed-media work that officially opens Saturday.
Her technique: She takes photographs of things that interest her and takes a paintbrush to the prints. Her landscapes, from Florida, the Hamptons area of New York and elsewhere, are stunning. “The photographs weren’t quite saying everything I wanted to say,” Douglas explains. “So I printed them out and just started painting over them, and correcting things that the camera didn’t pick up.”
Black & Blue consists of over-painted photos of her Sharks teammates in action (the team was discontinued in 2018). It was, she explains, “cathartic to combine my two loves.”
There’ve been other chapters in Andra Douglas’ storied career: A graduate of Florida State University, she earned a Masters’ in Communications Design from New York’s Pratt University, was VP of Creative for WarnerVision Entertainment/Atlantic Records, where she worked on projects for the likes of musical artists Hootie & the Blowfish and the Lemonheads. She was Art Director for numerous early ‘90s video releases, including the Jane Fonda Workout series and motivational tapes by nutritionist Susan “Stop the Insanity!” Powter.
She is also the founder of FINS UP, a sports-based female empowerment foundation.
Advance tickets to Saturday’s event include a copy of Black & Blue, which Douglas will be more than happy to sign.
The book, she says, came about because she wanted to remember everything about her football experiences – the good, the bad and the deliriously funny.
“I only wrote it down because things made such an impact,” she explains. “Something that the Sharks would say was just hysterical to me, so I would write it down. We’d do something or go somewhere, or have an experience that that was so phenomenal to me that I was like ‘I have to capture this somehow.’
“So I just started writing everything down, and throwing them into buckets and thinking one day I was going to weave it together. And finally, I did.”
Info and tickets here.