The Nation's Top Tackle Football Star is One Very Cool Lady
Plus! A Bingers Bargain Bins Birthday! Items of Interest!
Welcome to Issue #33 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Some of you may remember Smithson Michael, the TikTok Star Living in His Car profiled in Issue #17. He was getting millions of views for his videos but living in his Nissan up in the Bronx because he wasn’t earning enough from his delivery job to pay rent.
It’s been a while, but I heard from Smithson last week, totally out of the blue. His email had the following subject line: “TIKTOK STAR CATCHES MONSTER CARP IN CENTRAL PARK AND MEETS POP STAR IN SAME SPOT AND DAY.”
Yes, he caught a fish using Jello for bait, shortly after meeting Filipino-American pop star Kyle Echarri. You can watch the carp video here. I asked Smithson what flavor Jello, and whether he’d found an apartment, but have yet to hear back on either of those points.
In other news, Sophia Fromell, a writer based in Stockholm, Sweden and creator of the always thought-provoking newsletter, “Confessions of a Workaholic,” was kind enough to interview me in her recent issue about the launch of CAFÉ ANNE and being your own boss. Thank you Sophia!
Finally, I’m excited about this week’s feature, a profile of Adrienne Smith, an Upper West Side entrepreneur who just set a new record for receiving yards in women’s football. See “The Nation’s Top Tackle Football Star is One Very Cool Lady,” below.
CITY SHOT OF THE WEEK
CAFÉ ANNE SHOPPER
A Bingers Bargain Bins Birthday
Back in Issue #25, I took a look at Bingers Bargain Bins, the bonkers store in Astoria, Queens. It closes for two days in the middle of each week to receive a truckload of returned merchandise from Amazon, purchased by the ton. Employees distribute the load, completely unsorted, in giant bins. When the store reopens Friday morning, every item is priced at $10.99. On Saturday, every item costs $8.49. The price drops continue until Tuesday, when you can buy any two items for $2.99. The store closes on Wednesday, and the cycle starts anew.
The feature prompted reader Bob K. of Brooklyn to visit the store with his partner the morning of his birthday. He emailed me with a report.
“Everything was only $1,” he wrote. “But the merchandise seemed really picked over. However, we did find some fun items.”
Here, some of Bob’s best finds:
Thanks Bob, and happy birthday!
Want to report on your own trip to Bingers? Email your findings: email@example.com
The Nation’s Top Tackle Football Star is One Very Cool Lady
One of the first questions I asked Adrienne Smith, when I met her at a café near her Upper West Side home, was her age.
“I don’t do numbers,” she said. “The only number I do is, ‘How many championship rings do I have?’ That’s it!”
The answer: Ms. Smith has six Women’s Football Alliance championship rings.
And here’s another stat: 5,094 receiving yards. “I’m the all-time leading receiver,” she said. “I just broke the record.”
Ms. Smith is the Jerry Rice of women’s tackle football. She’s also a Columbia Business School grad and an entrepreneur who runs three businesses. She is, in short, a freak. My favorite kind of person!
I’m not the only one who finds Adrienne Smith extraordinary.
“I knew, from the age of three, that I was not ordinary,” said Ms. Smith. “I knew I was supposed to do some important things.”
Ms. Smith got a late start in football—she was in her mid 20s when she attended her first tryout. But another thing she knew at age three was that football was her game.
“People ask me, ‘Why football?’” she said. “Well, why is your favorite color green? I have no idea. From the age of three, when I saw it on television, I just became enamored.”
Growing up in Alexandria, VA, Ms. Smith wanted to join the all-boys high school football team, but her mom, fearing for her safety, said no. “The freshman football coach, he went to our church, so there's no way I could have even tried to sneak,” she said.
She played basketball and softball, then enrolled premed at Washington University in St. Louis with a major in Japanese and a minor in film. Next stop, Japan, where she worked in a remote village for an exchange teaching program. She told her boss, “Listen, you’ve got me visiting these schools, but what I can really do well is if I had a TV show. Then everyone in town could watch!”
The show—featuring Ms. Smith explaining American customs like Halloween pumpkin carving—was a hit.
Planning a career in TV and film production, she got her MBA at NYC’s Columbia Business School and landed an internal programming consultant job with a big New York cable company. She learned a lot about the business—and people.
“When influence, power and money are involved, people start acting crazy,” she said. “They lose morality and integrity. And this layer of fear and selfishness can take over.”
Football was off the radar until 2005 when, in the space of six months, her mother and three aunts died, one after the other.
“Anne, I was devastated,” said Ms. Smith. “My mom was a mentor, my idol, my best friend. To lose such a large part of myself, and my aunts as well, it just seemed like the world was crumbling. You realize life can just be snatched away, and you have no recourse. What is there left to do? You can't go file a complaint. It was terrifying.”
The calamity spurred her to quit her executive job and start her own company, Harlem Hip-Hop Tours.
“I was done with the whole nine-to-five,” she said. “I said, ‘I gotta be me.’ I was tired of being in this environment where everyone’s telling me what I cannot do and that my ideas are not accurate or phenomenal because of the package I come in.”
Around the same time, she learned of a women’s tackle football league. With a friend egging her on, she attended the tryouts in Brooklyn.
“The tryout was two hours, and that was the first two-hour period, since my mother had passed, where I didn't feel pain. And it was because I had that singular focus on football,” she said. “After the tryout, I had that sense of relief, that sense of freedom. I could breathe. Just for those two hours, the terror had been lifted off my shoulders. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe I should continue to do this.’”
She made the team, and every practice felt like a reprieve.
“The first game we had, the first time I touched the ball, was on a punt return—I scored a touchdown,” Ms. Smith continued. “I remembered in that moment, how three-year-old Adrienne said to herself, when she saw football on TV, ‘That's my sport. That’s the sport I’m going to be the best at.’”
Ms. Smith mentors a lot of young women looking to succeed in sports or business, and when they’re feeling frustrated and lost, she encourages them to look back: “Go back to your childhood. Take a weekend. Think about all that judgment, all those other voices that are in your head, kick them to the curb, and write down what you did as a kid. That’s really what you were meant to do.”
“What is it about childhood dreams?” I asked. “Why do we know when we’re children what to do?”
“Because that’s when God says, ‘You’re born with this,’” she said. “Because it's that point in time where we have just come from heaven. And we know in our heart of hearts what we've been put on the earth to do.”
Many adults feel unfulfilled because they’ve been discouraged from doing what they were supposed to do, she said. And it’s getting worse.
“We're living in a society that is chipping away at childhoods. We're causing kids to mature quickly,” she said. “And what does that do? It dwarfs the amount of time that they actually have to experience—to learn about what it is they want to be.”
“If you don't have a childhood,” she continued, “then you can never know why you were really born, why you were really brought to this planet. And you run around confused and chaotic. And then you impart that confusion and chaos onto other people, because you don't know how to deal with it yourself. And that's why all this dysfunction happens.”
So what’s it like to be tackled?
“That was one of my concerns before I started my career,” said Ms. Smith. She remembers her dad saying, “You can have the best hands in the world. But if you can't take a hit, it really doesn't matter.”
Turns out, when you get hit, you don’t feel it, at least if you’re Adrienne Smith. “Because you’re so engrossed in receiving the ball,” she said. “Getting hit is almost secondary. It’s like, okay, you just got tackled, but it doesn’t necessarily register as pain or discomfort. It’s quite interesting.”
Her talent and determination made her a top player with a New York City team. But her career really took off when a teammate started playing for the rival Boston Renegades and told her about the exceptional coaching staff.
“I wanted to be the best wide receiver I could be,” said Ms. Smith. “So I heard this little voice say, ‘Go play for Boston.’ And I remember, Anne, I was like, ‘Who said that?’ It was a voice from God.”
She joined the Renegades in 2011 while continuing to run Harlem Hip-Hop Tours, commuting to practices—a grueling schedule she’s kept up to this day. The first season, her team won the championship, the first of many.
“My time in Boston made me into the receiver I am today,” she said. “The biggest lesson I learned was the importance of being a blocking receiver. Before, all I wanted was just the glitz and glam—just give me the ball and let me score a touchdown. In Boston I learned, you have another role, and that is to block. If you can become a phenomenal blocking wide receiver, you help your team’s offense exponentially. And it also sets you up, as a receiver, to be even more deceptive and get even better.”
“Does blocking feel as good as scoring a touchdown?” I asked.
“Anne, please, don’t be asking questions that you know the answer to!” she said. “No, I’m a wide receiver, not a wide blocker. But we do what we have to do, to put the team in a position to win. So if I have to block, no one’s going to out-block me. If I have to catch, no one’s going to out-catch me.”
Women’s tackle football does not pay the bills. Teams in the 64-team Women’s Football Alliance are largely played on high school fields, and players pay to cover equipment, referees, transportation and lodging. “We do a lot of fundraising,” said Ms. Smith.
To pay the rent, Ms. Smith relies on her tour company, which employs a half-dozen guides giving DJ bus and artist tours to schools and corporations.
Her media company, Gridiron Queendom, promotes women and girls in football, which she says is gaining support and attention, with Nike and the NFL funding programs for high school girls.
A big chocolate milk fan, Ms. Smith is a spokesperson for the dairy industry’s Got Milk? campaign.
Ms. Smith also invented a children’s card game, Blitz Champz. This was back in 2015. Looking for a way to support Gridiron Queendom, she thought it might be easier to create a product than launch another service.
“I said, ‘It should be a game,’” she said. “And I was like ‘God, it would be great if I had a football version of Uno.’ And I kid you not, Anne, I kid you not. I prayed that prayer. And the next morning I woke up with Blitz Champz in my head. And I wrote it down.”
“It's very funny you prayed for a football version of Uno,” I said.
“I’ll show you the notes!” she said.
It took a year to develop the game. A 2017 launch introduced it as a math tool in New York City schools. It was later picked up by Walmart and has sold thousands of sets.
I asked Ms. Smith what she primarily lives on.
“Prayer, that’s number one,” she said.
Many receivers have a little dance routine reserved for end-zone touchdowns. Ms. Smith kneels and gives thanks.
“I’ve realized how quickly what you love the most can be snatched away from you. So every time I get into the end-zone, I thank God first, because it could have never happened,” she said. “Life is so ephemeral.”
“You could be gone in an instant,” she continued. “Realize that. Use your time here to make it better for everybody. It can be better for everybody. That's the problem—we have this zero sum mentality. ‘In order for me to have, that means you can't.’ What? Who came up with that? Why is that the prevailing mindset? Why can't we all win? We can! We can all win!”
I asked Ms. Smith why this zero-sum mindset is the prevailing view.
“I don't know if I want to get into all that right now, Anne,” she said. “That’s another conversation and I'm going to have to go deeper, and we're going to have to have some real talk about this planet and what's trying to happen. We don’t have time for all that. That’ll have to be a part two.”
ITEMS OF INTEREST
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