While the nation ponders, argues and frets over the idea of women in combat positions in the military, another, less visible, barrier is being broken: girls in tackle football. The idea won’t remain alien to the American public for much longer: in Salt Lake City, Utah, the first all-girls tackle football league has been formed featuring four teams of fifth- and sixth-grade players.
According to the Associated Press, one of the teams features a star player, 12-year-old Sam Gordon, who earned an invitation to the Super Bowl three years ago when video footage taken by her father of her playing against boys went viral on YouTube. Gordon was also invited to the television show, “Good Morning America.”
This is the first known all-girls youth league in the country, a fact that was confirmed by two of the largest national youth tackle football organizations, Pop Warner USA and USA Football, wrote the AP. The Utah Girls Tackle Football League, which began playing games just last week, is taking shape at an interesting time: just as parental, player and coach fears that head injuries in young contact sports players are reaching critical and dangerous levels, and not everyone is on board with it.
Even as equipment companies vie to make the game safer, it keeps getting more dangerous,” wrote Brad Rock for Utah’s Deseret News. “The speed and strength of the players always seems to be ahead of technology. Average length of an NFL career is about three years.”
Rock’s point is that rather than bringing more children into tackle football, maybe we should be working to discourage more children out of the sport (all while acknowledging a certain level of hypocrisy since he admits to loving football, like many Americans). The truth is, that some girls (and women) simply enjoy playing the game, and should have the right to do so if they wish. While adult women’s leagues tend to bring to mind the so-called “Lingerie Leagues,” there are women who want to play for love of the game and not for cash and the titillation of male viewers.
Concerns about injuries are a bit of a red herring: gymnastics, dance and cheerleading, three activities with mostly female participants, see some of the highest levels of injuries of any other sports. Soccer, basketball and track are also very injury-prone sports with high levels of female participation at the youth level. If girls want to play a full-contact sport, they will find a way to do so: when the Utah Girls Tackle Football League first formed, the open spots – 50 of them – filled up very quickly, surprising even the league’s founders. It’s probable that the creation of the league will inspire other, similar leagues in other parts of the U.S.
"The ultimate goal is for women to get paid to play," Sam Rapoport, the director of development for USA Football, told CNN. "We'd love to see women's tackle football played at the pro level."