Despite Misguided Ridicule, Women Keep Proving Worth in All Facets of Football
When I was eight years old, my twin brother tried out for youth football. I was jealous. I wanted to play, too. I had tagged along with my brothers and their friends, playing tackle football in vacant yards behind schools and other office buildings. I knew I was good enough, if not better than some of the other boys on his team. I knew I was tough enough, too. But my parents didn’t let me try out. They thought it was too rough. I resented them for that, for not even giving me the chance.
Still, I went to all of my brother’s games. During one pee-wee game, I noticed something different about one of the opposing players. She was a girl. She was the starting running back, and she was making players miss all over the field. My heart swelled with envy. But also, gratitude. At least there’s one out there, I thought. Showing them we can play this game, too.
Football is essentially just another game. There is no rhyme or reason as to what draws us to one or the other, no matter what gender we may be. For me, football has always been intriguing. I like the rapid pace, the strategy, the few seconds of anticipation before every play. It takes a certain toughness and confidence to play football, something I always felt I had to prove growing up—that I was just as tough and confident as my two brothers and their friends. I had to prove to them I could play. Every time I step on the field now to play in my two-hand-touch co-ed league, I still have to prove it.
Women, in general, still have to prove we not only understand football, but that we are good enough to be around it and participate in it. Think about that. Women account for half of the NFL fan base. Do you think we are there just to watch men in tight pants run around a field for four hours, or that we have no idea what is happening on said field? Or maybe, think about this: There are women who work for NASA —yes, NASA—who are mathematicians and rocket scientists. A group of women, considered “human computers,” helped put a man on the moon. Yet, you’re going to tell me that women don’t have the capability of understanding football?
Let me tell you something—football is not rocket science. Not even close. Give someone, anyone, a chance to learn and study the game and it’s like anything else in life, the more knowledge you have the better. Of course, men often complain that women don’t have the same experience as men, regardless of their knowledge, because they haven’t “played” football.
First, there are plenty of male sportswriters, analysts and broadcasters who never played a single down in the NFL, let alone college football. Second, it’s an ignorant statement. A simple Google search would show you that there are women’s football leagues all over the country, including the Independent Women’s Football League and the Women’s Football Alliance. These players have experience. They have playbooks. They wear helmets and shoulder pads and all of the same equipment. They call audibles from the pocket. They study formations on offense and defense. They have that experience men so desperately need them to quantify. Unlike men who earn hefty paychecks, they do it for sheer love of the game.
But then some men will say, “it’s not the same.”
How? It’s tackle football. Same rules. A Power I formation is run the same way in men’s and women’s football. Or do they think it’s different in the women’s game because they have different anatomy?
Last year, I interviewed Kim Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Bills, for espnW. She told me that getting more women into the NFL coaching pipeline comes down to access. Men have always had access to football. Women haven’t. That’s part of a shift that is changing. If you require women to have more experience and be around football more, then give them the opportunity at the high school, college and pro levels.
What’s ironic here is that no one is advocating for hiring women without any knowledge of the game or lack of experience in the first place. They hire women because they have the knowledge and experience. Jen Welter played football in the WFA before transitioning to coaching. That’s what got her hired by Cardinals for training camp in 2015.
Kathryn Smith, who coached for the Bills last year, got her foot in the door of the Jets organization and was working her way up the personnel ladder into coaching—something men laude other men for doing. She did it the exact same way, yet she was still ridiculed.
Before being hired in her current role as a full time assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, Katie Sowers was the general manager of the Kansas City Titans and had previously worked 49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta. Sowers also played for the Titans and was a part of the U.S. Team that competed in the IFAF Women’s Championship. Despite these accomplishments, she still had to be subjected to this type of drivel:
Women have no place on the nfl sidelines…u are a sideshow and publicity stunt..go coach in a womens league where u belong
— Clay teller (@Clayteller1) August 31, 2017
The funny thing is, the only men who have a problem with women in football are those fans outside of the locker room. Smith was respected by all of the Bills players. The 49ers have embraced Sowers. If the organization and the guys inside the locker room themselves don’t have an issue with it, why does some beer-bellied dude who armchair coaches from his living room have a problem with it?
To me, it says more about the men who take issue with women integrating into football than anything else. It says they are insecure for whatever reason, and it reveals something deeper and, quite honestly, sad about what they think of women in general. These are guys who have daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, etc. These are the same men who are tucking their daughters in at night and sending them off to sleep with what message? That they can be and do anything they want to when they grow up, except if it involves a seemingly male-dominated space like football?
What kind of message is that? If women stuck to that kind of thinking, we wouldn’t be scientists, lawyers, sports agents, broadcasters, sportswriters, CEOs, civic leaders, etc. We’d be regulated to roles that are outdated and unevolved.
I’d like to ask those same men how they would view the situation if it was their own daughter that ended up on the coaching staff of an NFL team someday. Would they be proud? Would they still mock her? Would they tell her football is over her head?
Or would they use that old, tired cliché and tell her to get back into the kitchen?
The reality is women aren’t shying away from football, they are moving towards it. And they have every right to do so. But if you’re the kind of man who is threatened or bothered by it, I have one piece of advice—at least be original with your criticism.
Telling a woman to go back to the kitchen is so 1950.