Opinion: Carli Lloyd Deserves an Audition But Women Playing Contact Positions in the NFL Should Not Become Norm
During a Philadelphia Eagles practice last week, U.S. Women’s Soccer star Carli Lloyd hit a 55-yard field goal with room to spare. The video went viral. Like everyone who watched it, I was in awe. At first, the overall sense was that it was something cool Lloyd did and accomplished. But the conversation has since turned into speculation as to whether or not Lloyd could actually play in the NFL. There have been reports that Lloyd has already fielded calls from a handful of NFL teams, and sports pundits and writers have been weighing in on all sides.
Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports’ Speak For Yourself was beside himself about the idea of a woman playing in the NFL. “Carli Lloyd can kick in the NFL and Toni Harris is a potential NFL defensive back. Is this healthy? What’s the endgame?” he tweeted.
I understand his reasoning to some extent. Let me explain.
When I was eight years old, I wanted to play football. My twin brother joined a local Pop Warner team and I asked my parents if I could try out, too. I knew I could play just as well as the boys. In the back grassy areas behind schools and at the neighborhood playground, I’d tackle and get hit just as hard as they did. I ran just as fast and could catch the ball better than most. It felt like we were equals on the same playing field. As kids that young, we were.
My parents thought otherwise. They didn’t let me play because they were afraid I’d get hurt. So, I’d sit in the stands at my brother’s games and sulk. It felt like a betrayal I’d never get over.
I’m older and a bit wiser now. I know that my parents made a tough decision that was in my best interest, even if I do think I could have played with the boys at that age. I continued to play tackle football with my brothers and their friends in backyards and playground fields, but as we all got older I began to notice that I couldn’t tackle them as easily as I had before. And they stopped tackling me as hard as they could. My body changed and eventually, I stopped playing tackle football with them altogether. It just wasn’t the same.
My love of football hasn’t waned. I still play in a co-ed two-hand-touch league. I’m still fast and I can still catch the ball better than most. I talk trash and when a guy lines up across from me, I tell our QB to hit me on an out and up. Sometimes I smoke them and it feels awesome. But I also know for a fact that there’s no way I’d be able to play tackle football with these same guys. I’ve nearly had my head taken off going up for passes against guys who are taller and bigger than me more than a few times. And that’s just two-hand touch.
Football is a dangerous and brutal sport. Injuries are abundant. We already know that CTE happens due to continual hits and blows to the head. Rob Gronkowski retired at the end of last season because his body and mind were debilitated. Andrew Luck just announced his early retirement due to pain and mental anguish associated with the game. More and more players are bowing out in their early thirties to try and salvage their bodies before the pain of injuries become chronic issues.
If men hitting men on the football field suffer this much, what would men hitting women on the field look like?
So yes, on that level I agree with Whitlock. Toni Harris plays a full contact position and made history for earning a scholarship to play college football at a four-year school. I love Harris’ story. It’s inspiring and her determination is incredible. But I’ll be surprised if Harris gets on the field more than a handful of times this season. For the past two years, Harris attended East Los Angeles College and played on the football team as a safety. In two seasons, she played in only four games and recorded three tackles.
Name one football player in the history of the game with that stat line who’s been offered a college scholarship to play football at a four-year school?
Again, it’s great to see Harris following her dream and I truly do believe she wants to make it to the NFL someday. But it’s not realistic. As someone who champions women athletes and sports and often comments on women competing head to head against men in other sports, I can honestly say that professional football is not one of those sports—not in a full contact position. The risk is too great.
But what about Lloyd?
A kicker is not a full contact position. And it’s been done before. Katie Hnida was the first woman to ever play Division I college football at the University of New Mexico. There have been others since. So a woman playing in the NFL as a kicker isn’t that far of a leap, especially when that woman is Lloyd. She has one of the strongest legs we’ve ever seen. She has scored goals from midfield. It should come as no surprise that she can hit a 55-yard field goal and perhaps, even further. I understand that Lloyd hit the field goal on a sunny day with barely any wind, wearing no pads/helmet and not facing an opposing team. Others say her form isn’t right, that soccer and football are two different disciplines. Both of those things are fair. Pundits, commentators, analysts and the whole of Twitter can speculate all they want but unless Lloyd gets the opportunity to prove whether she can or she can’t, we’ll never know for sure.
To answer Whitlock’s question, there’s no endgame here. No one, especially me, is advocating for women to suit up and compete in the trenches against 300-pound men or risk getting their heads cut off while running a route across the middle. It’s simply a special situation and it would be fun and amazing to see if Lloyd could make it as an NFL kicker if she were given the opportunity to do so.
I’m not going to lie. My eight-year-old self would love to see it happen.