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Women In Sports: Q&A with New York Sharks QB, Karen Mulligan

As many of you know, March is Women’s History Month. Women and sports are becoming more and more popular. Whether it be female athletes, coaches, or those working behind the scenes, women are playing a larger and larger role in athletics every year. To help celebrate Women’s History Month and women in sports, throughout March, Double G Media will share one interview per day, highlighting a woman in the sports world.

Today, we introduce you to, Karen Mulligan. Karen is a 15-year veteran of the New York Sharks, the New York women’s professional football team and part of the IWFL. She is the team’s quarterback and works as a teacher when she’s not on the field.

Karen Mulligan (Photo provided by Karen Mulligan)

Karen Mulligan (Photo provided by Karen Mulligan)


Double G Sports: What inspired you to play football?

Karen Mulligan: After my college basketball career was over, I went to be a graduate assistant at Pace University for Women’s Basketball.  While there, one of the assistant athletic directors was talking to a few of us about her friend that tried out for a women’s football team in Connecticut.  She said that she was going to pick up her helmet and pads that weekend.  I almost didn’t believe her and started asking more questions.

After the conversation, I went onto the internet and looked up women’s football team’s in NY and the Sharks were the first to show up.  As luck would have it, they were having tryouts 2 weeks later, so I went.  I’ve been playing ever since.

DGS: Being a woman in sports, have you come across any specific challenges or discouragement?

KM: I think I have been really fortunate to have very supportive family and friends throughout my entire athletic career, or should I say life.  My parents didn’t really believe that I was going to play tackle football and of course my mother didn’t want me to get hurt, but there they were at every home game.  To this day they still come to almost all of my home games.

With playing football, the biggest challenge that most of us face, I think, is being able to fit everything into the day.  The season is very exhausting.  I have to go to work because we don’t get paid to play, go to practice two nights during the week after work (I usually get home after 11 p.m.) and get up early for work the next day. We also practice on Saturday mornings until games start and then when they do start it pretty much takes up your whole Saturday.  We have to travel by bus to our away games, which this season we have to go to NC and Montreal.  There’s also fundraising or coming up with the money to play each season.  Fees vary on how many players we have and where we have to travel.  Whichever way you can, you make it work because you love to play.

I can’t say that I have had any real discouragement.  The people that I’ve surrounded myself with know how important playing football is to me or know that I’ve been an athlete my entire life, so they would never be negative about it

DGS: Who do you look to for inspiration in the sports world?

KM: I am in support and enjoy watching and celebrating any female athlete or female teams that are breaking barriers or are excelling at their craft.  Seeing female athletes like Abby Wambach, Serena Williams, Jen Welter and even the young girls playing football in Utah get recognition and being put on primetime television feels like a small victory for all female athletes.

DGS: How do you feel about the current status of women in sports (as athletes)? What can improve?

KM: The status of female athletes is improving, slowly.  One thing that could be improved is payment for play.  I understand that’s a marketing issue though and not really a money making issue.  Female athletes don’t get paid anywhere close to what men do.  Pro-female basketball players have had salary issues for a long time, forcing a lot of great players to go overseas to play.  One thing affects the other though.  You have to market and build interest in it to get the fans to show up and bring in the money so players can get paid what they deserve.

It’s part of changing the overall culture surrounding female athletics and getting people to see that the games can be just as entertaining and these women work just as hard if not harder than the men do.

DGS: What advice do you give other professional female football players who are just starting out?

KM: One thing that I’ve told rookies is that if they find that they love the sport, then do whatever you can to keep playing.  It will change your life.  Football has given me so many opportunities, from making lifetime friends, finding something that is fulfilling and being able to be a part of the first U.S. Women’s National Tackle Football Team.

You have to really give it a chance to see what it’s going to give you in return.  It’s not for everyone, but if you find it’s for you, then there’s nothing else like it.

DGS: What is the most inspiring piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

KM: Definitely true in life is the saying that no matter how bad you think things are going in your life or what challenges may come about, there is always someone who has it worse than you.  You have to handle one issue at a time and make the best out of each situation.  One thing that my father is very big on, and I learned at a young age, is that there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things.  Integrity is very important to me and that’s how I live my life.

DGS: What has been your biggest discovery about yourself since starting to play football?

KM: I think with football I was able to use all of my athletic ability.  There are things with playing quarterback that I was unsure that I’d be able to do.  I’ve learned so much and surprised myself that I was capable of doing more than I had thought.  I’ve also matured a lot as an athlete.  Playing for so long has really allowed me to see the growth that I’ve had over the years.


Karen Mulligan, No. 30 (Photo provided by Karen Mulligan)

Karen Mulligan, No. 30 (Photo provided by Karen Mulligan)


DGS: What is one thing no one knows about you?

KM: There are very few people who know that I still get incredibly nervous before games.  Sometimes I get anxious to the point of not feeling well. When the game starts, it goes away.

DGS: What do you do when you’re not playing football?

KM: During the season, on an off day, I’m usually just relaxing or spending time with my family.  In the off season, I still have to work, but besides that, there’s always some type of work or project to do around the house.  It never ends.  I like to go away, if I can. My new found interest is visiting different breweries.

DGS: What is your pre-game snack/meal?

KM: I always have a bagel with coffee in the morning on weekends.  Later on I have a sandwich or wrap before traveling to the field.  What I eat doesn’t vary much. I have always felt like if I ate a lot before the game, my stomach wouldn’t be able to handle it with how I get nervous.  If I’m a little hungry before the game and at half time I’ll usually eat half a protein bar.

DGS: Warm up playlist – What music gets you ready for a game or work?

KM: Pre-game music includes some songs from Staind, Breaking Benjamin, Papa Roach, along with some Foo-Fighters and random other rock or alternative rock songs.

DGS: If you could have dinner with any three people (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?

KM: First I’ll say my grandmother.  She passed a few years ago and I was very close with her.  Next I would say Peyton Manning.  Since I started playing quarterback, I started to watch the game differently and really liked what Peyton did on the field as far as running the offense.  He’s a phenomenal quarterback.  Third, I’m not sure.  I could probably come up with a third if I racked my brain so it was meaningful.  The first two were easy.


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Other 2016 Women In Sports Interview Series features:

Emily Pfalzer (Buffalo Beauts)

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