Let’s be honest–kickers and punters are the women of the NFL. No one expects them to tackle and everyone kind of giggles when they do. There are special rules in place to prevent anyone from touching their legs. They spend a great deal of their time feeling nervous and then erupting into totally unmanly displays of emotion (think of the Gramatica’s). They are only marginally a part of the team. If an NFL team were on a boat and it was sinking, the kickers and punters would be the first ones overboard. Rich Eisen may believe that, “Punters are people, too.” But the fact that he has to make a t-shirt convincing people of punters’ humanity only lends further support to the argument that, like women, kickers and punters are the NFL’s second class citizens.
It makes sense, then, that if women are to ever play in the NFL, it would first be as a kicker or a punter. Lauren Silberman will become the first woman to try out at a regional NFL combine this spring and she will do so as a kicker. Kudos to the NFL as an organization for allowing such a thing to happen. Ms. Silberman is a long-shot to make a team, but even a long-shot is better than no shot at all.
Many diehard fans may not see kickers and punters as real football players, but games are won or lost on their feet. Imagine a woman kicking the winning field goal in the Super Bowl. In 2012, the NFL confirmed that there was no rule against women playing in the league; that’s still a far cry from a team actually drafting a woman to play. But with the opportunity now open, perhaps a whole new generation of young girls will start lining up in front of the goal posts. As a kicker in the NFL, they’d have the opportunity to make more money playing a sport professionally than is possible anywhere outside of tennis for women; that should constitute some incentive.
There are some who would argue that, regardless of NFL rules, it still isn’t possible for a woman to make it as a kicker on an NFL team, let alone at any other position. It is just one of the things that women will never be able to do. There’s a long list of things about which this exact argument has been made, and a lot of them have had to be crossed off that list. A woman will never be able to beat a man in tennis. Women will never be able to break the 3 hour barrier for the marathon. Women will never be able to dunk. Women will never be able to beat men in a slam dunk contest. You’d think this would make people a bit hesitant to make claims about the things women will never be able to do.
As a sociologist, I understand that success in a given sport is about much more than biological ability. In the early 20th century, it was Jewish men who were seen as biologically superior basketball players, while leading scientists predicted that African-Americans were so physically inferior that their race would eventually become extinct. If you had told someone then that in fact, African-Americans would come to dominate professional basketball, they might have dismissed that as yet another thing that was simply impossible.
It’s hard to know what women might be capable of athletically speaking. I’m glad the NFL, at least in practice, has left the door open for any women who can prove they’re capable of stepping through.
Field goals today. Touchdowns tomorrow.
Many helpful commenters have pointed out to me that in the disturbing event that some freakish woman violated her feminine nature and learned how to kick and/or punt, and assuming this eventuality did not bring about a fiery apocalypse, women would never be tough enough to tackle or be tackled. I won’t point out all the positions in the NFL that require neither tackling nor being tackled (though their numbers are growing as defense slowly disappears). I get it. I’m a woman, but I think I can wrap my mind around this. What they’re saying is…
This woman could never handle tackling or being tackled:
But this man could:
This woman would, I think, maybe, faint with fear?
But this guy would not.
These woman can’t tackle because their fragile woman parts would suffer permanent damage.
But just look at this guy, right?
I get it now. Thanks.