Donna Wilkinson: A Living Legend in Washington Football

By Mark Staffieri

This profile was written in 2014.

When the football conversation arrives at some of the most impactful and remarkable athletes who have competed on the gridiron in Washington, names such as Sammy Baugh, Art Monk, Charley Taylor and Joe Theismann may quickly come to mind. It is now time to consider Donna Wilkinson in such circles.

A member of the D.C. Divas since their inaugural season in 2001, her contributions in helping to grow and strengthen the female game are nothing short of Hall of Fame worthy. Having grown up in Riverside, California, she would also spend one season with the WPFL’s Los Angeles Amazons in 2007.

Off the field, her heroics are just as impressive. From engagements as a public speaker to providing inspiration to children at schools and clinics, she is the true embodiment of strong feminine leadership.

Competing in a sports market where pro baseball and football based out of both Washington and Baltimore is predominant, Wilkinson has helped transform the Divas into a successful franchise that has captured the hearts and minds of fans in the capital district. Four consecutive undefeated regular seasons, a national title in 2006, and a conference crown in 2009 are part of the remarkable legacy the burgundy and gold have carved.

Known affectionately as The Animal, she has also competed on the world’s biggest stage – twice. Proudly donning the Team USA jersey, she has helped the red, white, and blue capture the gold medal at the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships.

Statistically, she was the fifth leading rusher for the U.S. contingent in 2013 while running for a touchdown against Canada in the gold medal game. Her five PAT’s tied with Mia Brickhouse for tops on the team, although Wilkinson was a perfect 5-5. Of note, she also showed versatility in her game as she registered tackles against Germany.

Her coming out party took place during the 2003 Divas season, a watershed moment in franchise history. A 7-1 regular season campaign was highlighted by Wilkinson becoming the first running back in female football history to pass the magical 1,000-yard rushing mark. She would finish with 1,267 yards, making national news, while the Divas won their first postseason game in franchise history.

Named the Divas offensive MVP during that magical season, a rare accolade would follow. The Washington Pigskin Club bestowed upon her the prestigious John W. Posey award for professional athlete of the year. As the first female in history to win the award, she is in rarified air. Past winners have included Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens.

Ten years later, she remained an invaluable component of the Divas offensive attack. In 2013, she was the second leading rusher on the Divas, while her 12 rushing touchdowns ranked second behind the 18 registered by Kenyetta Grigsby. In addition, Wilkinson’s 312 combined yards from scrimmage ranked second overall behind Grigsby.

Honored as a league all-star at the linebacker, running back, and tight end positions during her distinguished tenure with the Divas, it is testament to her well-rounded game. Even as a collegiate athlete, she possessed remarkable athletic skill. Attending Columbia Union College on a softball scholarship, she was equally adept in basketball, cross country, softball, and volleyball.

One of the most unique aspects of her career occurred in September 2012 when local CBS affiliate WUSA-TV9 provided her with a remarkable opportunity to showcase her strong knowledge of the gridiron game. Working as a sports analyst for the program GAME ON, she proudly follows in the footsteps of former player Anita Marks, who currently has a national radio show for NBC.

Legendary Redskins players such as Darrell Green and Dexter Manley comprise part of the panel with Wilkinson. Christine Brennan of USA Today joins Wilkinson as another strong woman on the broadcast, while Redskins beat writer Grant Paulson is part of the program. From discussing the collegiate SEC Football Game of the Week broadcast on CBS to discussing local NFL teams such as the Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens, it is a suitable showcase for the articulate and charismatic Wilkinson.

Encompassing an entrepreneurial spirit and a love of athletics, complemented by a passion for life, Wilkinson is one of the great success stories in modern women’s football. Employing the power of positive thinking, she has set the standard for other players heading into their fabulous forties, as her commitment to training and conditioning is unmatched.

If two words can describe her calling as an athlete, it may very well be expanding opportunities. Helping to shatter barriers while ensuring that women had an equal chance to shine on the gridiron, she is more than just a pioneer, but an inspiration to future generations whose sporting legacy they shall proudly carry on.