Football. The last bastion of men's sports?
Maybe not. Let's go to post Title IX America.
In 1974, in Montgomery County, PA, ten-year old Suzanne "Suzy" Kolber won a spot on a little league football team, but quit due to strong opposition from parents and other adults.
Kolber, of course, is well-known as the sideline reporter for ESPN's Monday Night Football and many other assignments for the network.
Fast forward to 1981, when Tammy Maida became a quarterback for the Philemath (OR) High School football team. Her story became the basis for the TV movie Quarterback Princess, starring future Oscar winner Helen Hunt.
And in 2012...is a new day dawning in American football?
Over the past year, there have been two national stories about girls playing on high school teams: Northwestern (Fla.) High School's Jaline DeJesus made history in the Miami school's 38-12 victory over Hialeah Miami Lakes in September, by becoming the first girl to play in a varsity game for Florida's highest and toughest division, 6A, as a cornerback. the Miami Herald reported that According to Yahoo news, DeJesus was an able substitute at defensive back for the final minute of Northwestern's victory. Or Virginia's Mina Johnson, a 5'2, 170-pound defensive tackle for Southampton Academy's junior varsity squad against Lasker (N.C.) Northeast Academy. Johnson had recorded four sacks in a recent game. However, two religious-oriented schools forfeited rather than play against a girl. She also sat out one game.
And just this past week...Samantha "Sweet Feet" Gordon.
With grade schoolers and teens in the mix, is it implausible to think that women could someday compete in the NFL?
Most people would say yes, it is impossible, especially with the the likelihood of concussions, brain injuries and long-term damage for all who play the game.
But that is the universal proposition for all football players, not just for women. And the NFL has voiced its commitment to making the game play safer and the equipment more protective.
I am equally as confident that girls, given the chance, will give it everything they have to be a part of this game.
Nine-year-old Samantha "Sam" Gordon, of Utah's Gremlins League is sure going to try to prove them wrong. At least over the next two years, she says. The tiny under-60-pounder is outrunning peewee football defenses, to the tune of 35 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards this season against kids twice her size and half her heart.
"She could cut and follow blocks like a college football player," her coach, Chris Staib, told yahoo.com.
On Sunday, the girl nicknamed "Sweet Feet" made a guest appearance on NFL Live, impressing the likes of jaded veteran Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and taking down Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. Then, Gordon was spirited away for a walk-through at the 49ers practice facility in Santa Clara shortly afterwards as they prepared for the Bears on Monday Night Football. She even sat for a photo op with Coach Jim Harbaugh, himself a father of three daughters.
I covered Harbaugh when he was with the Bears, and I hope someone asks him tonight about the possibility of women in the NFL. Harbaugh, if you remember, was a quarterback at Michigan, a Bo Schembechler creation, who was molded in the Big 10 image of an All-American quarterback. Likely, the thought never crossed his mind about women playing in the NFL. I feel certain that the thought also hadn't occurred to his brother John, the Baltimore Ravens head coach.
If asked, however, I am speculating that Harbaugh will blush, smile, and say that while he was very impressed with the young Ms. Gordon, he can't imagine a day when women would be strong enough, or powerful enough, to compete in the NFL.
"Sweet Feet" learned to be a football player as a way to keep up with her big brother. As reported by the London Daily Mail, Sam's competitiveness has turned her into a star player in her local, all-boys football league in Utah, becoming one of the fastest children in the Salt Lake City area ‘Gremlins’ league as well as breaking and making tackles among the much bigger players. She even tackles a 150-pound boy named "Tank" who plays on her team. After being tackled, the boys "don't say much of anything. They just get up, brush themselves off, and walk away." she told Yahoo News.
The legendary Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, who knows something about running routes and sidestepping brawny, outsized tacklers, tweeted,
"That video is impressive. Looks like I've found a girlfriend for my nine-year-old."
One current Bear, and one who should know about football from peewee to the pros, already has tweeted his approval. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, according to nbc.com, said on Twitter:
"Lil Sammy is a beast. Check her out."
According to the video that made her a YouTube sensation and brought her national attention, she rushed 232 times for 35 touchdowns and 1,911 yards, while adding in 65 tackles.
You can't argue with the numbers, even at age 9. She's outstanding. But her future may be limited. According to her father Brent, soccer is where her true passion lies. And Mia Hamm is her ultimate role model.
I have heard all the arguments before about women and football, and many other sports. Taking the risk, and learning how to outsmart your opponents using your best assets, is the name of the game. How many times was Darren Sproles, of the New Orleans Saints (5-6, 190). told that he was "too small" for the NFL? WR/KR/PR Brandon Banks, of the Washington Redskins (5-7, 155). Or the late, great Walter Payton, (5'10, 200 pounds) but faster than lightning? All were told at one point they were "too small" for the NFL.
But let's look forward...say a decade from now. Samantha Gordon will be 19 years old. Possibly in college. Title IX means equal athletic scholarships for women, and maybe, she's the first girl ever to be offered a football scholarship, as a running back.
Here's how that happens: The new NFL safety rules and equipment have now made it possible for all indviduals to play football safely, without the possibility of long-lasting damage to the brain or other vital organs. Women start competing more often at the highest levels of peewee football. The movement grows. And sooner or later, someone like Sam will break ranks and flourish.
What do others say about this? Love to hear your thoughts!