October 17, 2000

Women in Football

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Cheers to women, another barrier has been broken.

The place of women in football has been a boiling pot of scalding water for a number of years. Girls have had a tough time removing themselves from being relegated to the sidelines in short skirts and pom-poms. Football, of course, has traditionally been held as a man’s sport, where grunting nonsense syllables, blasting the snot out of each other with bone-crunching hits, and tearing up ACLs has been considered perhaps too “uncivilized” for our female counterparts.

In the 1920s, men’s professional teams often used women’s teams as halftime entertainment. According to one Cornell student, a junior in the Arts College who wished only to be identified as Deep Throat, “The football field is a man’s kitchen.”

Four days ago, Duke University was charged with gender discrimination against a female kicker — cutting her from the team not because she was untalented, but simply for the fact that she was a girl. Both sides have their own versions of the story with support from various “kicking experts.”

More important than the bickering however, is that the case brings up a few interesting questions. Why does anyone want to play football? Why would women not be allowed to play football? Why would anyone even care? Do we watch the men playing football or do we watch the game itself? Would women affect the quality of the game?

Obviously women and men can’t coexist at certain positions on the football field for the simple fact that the average woman is smaller, and not as strong as the average man. They realistically could only play a few positions, including kicker and perhaps receiver. And by playing the sport, women aren’t trying to flaunt their strength or show that they can “rough it up with the big boys.” They are just playing for the love of the game.

The problem is that simple love of the game doesn’t cut it anymore. There is an intense pressure to win — not only on the players, but especially on the coaches. So while a coach may say that he doesn’t discriminate against a female player, subconsciously he is thinking, “What if the game is on the line, we’re kicking the winning field goal, and there is a bad snap? The kicker will have to pick the ball up and either run it or throw it. If the kicker is a girl, not only may she not be able to throw it deep, she may get seriously injured because she’s smaller than this male kicker that I already have. So if I can get a kicker with equal accuracy but who’s bigger, we may have a better chance to win.”

A solution rings clear through the muddled mess: create a women’s football league.

Lo and behold, a new Women’s Professional Football League (WPFL) has already been formed. This past Saturday night was the first official game of the fledgling league, pitting the New York Galaxy against the New England Storm. While the new league does not have the endorsement of the NFL yet, it should. And soon.

Most “football fans” will ignore this league for the simple fact that the quality will not be as good as the NFL. It will take time and exposure for the WPFL to mature and grow. It will be a while before their touchdown dances match those of Merton Hanks and Jamal Anderson, but I’m sure they can come up with some good ones. If and when T.V. rights are established, people will begin to gain interest in the league, forming a fan base. There will be pressure to win from the ticket holders, creating a demand for good football players, and in turn, a more competitive league. The process will take time, but I think it is worth it.

It is a battle women have been fighting for a number of years, and I think it’s high time they got the help they deserve (cue you, NFL).

Just look at how women’s basketball has grown. During the 1980’s, the ABL was a complete flop, finally and mercifully closing its doors in 1997. Then that summer, the WNBA sprung up and, with support from the NBA, has grown into a niche of its own. It has a rather large fan base (the Washington Mystics sold out every game this past summer) and is building tradition. Sure the women can’t dunk yet, but they definitely can put on the jukes and jives and that make the men’s game so endearing (see Sheryl Swoopes and Chamique Holdsclaw).

I, for one, can’t wait until the first Joanne Montana, Rhonda Lott, Gretta Farve, Danielle Marino, and Martha Monk step onto the field and strut their football stuff.

So give the WPFL time, and go out and watch a game or two. The New York Galaxy plays games in Syracuse and Buffalo. Check out the league’s official site (http://www.womensprofootball.com/) for rankings, stats, previews and reviews.

Root ’em on football fans. Could there be anything sweeter than having two Super Bowls in one year?

I think not.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin