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First Ladies of Football: Virginia Halas McCaskey

As the NFL celebrates it’s centennial birthday it’s only fitting to kick off this series with the woman who was a mere 4 year old girl when it first began.

Chicago Bears Bear Down by Jim Larrison is licensed under CC BY 2.0

First Ladies of Football: Virginia Halas McCaskey

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

As a follow up to my female problem piece our illustrious editors asked if I would be interested in doing a deeper dive into each of the 4 female owners. So with that, I thought I’d start with the daughter of the guy who, ya know, basically founded the NFL as we know it now.

As the NFL celebrates its centennial birthday, it’s only fitting to kick off this series with the woman who was a mere 4-year-old girl when it first began. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Chicago Bears owner, Virginia Halas McCaskey, was born into football. While eventually she chose the football life it’s safe to say that the football life chose her first.

Her father, George Halas, assumed ownership of the then Decatur Staleys, in 1921 taking over for his boss and then moved the team to Chicago.

Fun facts of the Bears origins:

  • Halas named the team the Bears in tribute to the Chicago Cubs who let them share Wrigley Field as their home initially.
  • He chose the Bears colors, blue and orange, in honor of his alma mater, The University of Illinois where they won 1918 Big Ten Conference Title.
  • Halas also played 12 games as an outfielder for the New York Yankees in 1919

But enough about George. We aren’t here to talk about him. Or at least not mostly.

Back to Virginia.

After her brother, George Jr, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1979 the line of team succession passed naturally to Virginia, even though she was his elder. Four years later, she assumed the majority stake of ownership after George Sr passed away in 1983. Only 2 years later the Bears won their first and only Superbowl and were dominant through most of the 80’s. Until the late 90’s there was always a Halas or McCaskey in the top-level office positions. That was when she fired her son Michael and elevated Ted Phillips to President & CEO of the team.

Boss Moves

Ok, for one, she went to college at 16?! Boss Move. At Drexel University she focused on Secretarial Studies in hopes of becoming her father’s secretary. She ended up owning the team. Double Boss Move. She is now valued at $2.4 billion. Not bad for a girl who wanted to be a secretary. After assuming ownership she also disbanded the “Honey Bears” which served as the nickname for the teams cheerleaders that were established in 1976 seeing it as sexist and degrading for women. SUPER BOSS MOVE.

More of a Family

As a child, her parents would often extend invitations to players who were without a home base to join them for major holidays and the like. It’s a tradition that Mrs. McCaskey still carries on. And yet she keeps her own family at the center of the organization. Even though there have been promotions within the organization that are outside of the family, there’s no question that the ownership will stay within it. In her world, it’s family and faith that guide her decisions.

“Happy in the hull? Are you kidding?” says her son, George. “She’s in the prow. She’s got the night watch. She’s looking for icebergs. With her at the helm, the seas are calmer, the storms less severe. She’s the guiding force behind the Bears, and everybody at Halas Hall — including the players — knows that and appreciates that. That’s why the goal of everybody here is to see her holding the Super Bowl trophy

I am living for this clap-back at LeBron.

While the Bears seem far from competing for a Superbowl ring this year their fans and the McCaskey family remain hopeful that Virginia will get to hold another Lombardi trophy in her lifetime. As for her, she remains as humble as her Midwestern depression-era beginnings…

“I still think it’s a man’s world,” she says. “But I like my little part of it.”

An actor by degree, sports lover by day, and a bartender by night. As a native of suburban Detroit it took moving to NYC for Katie to fully realize her love of all things Michigan and Detroit sports. Feel free to engage her in her love of the coolest city and prettiest state in the country and why she will always root for Ohio State to lose every sporting event ever. No, really I am dead serious about that last statement.

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