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Football system not ready for breaking the gender mold

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NFL history was made March 3. when the first woman to participate in the regional scouting combine took to the field of the New York Jets practice facility.

Laura Silberman, a former club soccer player at the University of Wisconsin, tried out as a place-kicker and attempted two kicks. The first went for 19 yards, and the following flew for 13 yards before aggravating her right quadricep, forcing Silberman to sit out the rest of the combine.

Silberman’s performance definitely won’t result in a draft selection, but it did open the floor for discussion on the possibility of a woman one day strapping on a helmet and clashing with the men of the NFL.

It’s a slippery slope to say the least. Critics that would rather keep the NFL an all-male sport point to locker room issues and tackling techniques as key reasons.

If a female athlete can prove that she can keep up with the male athletes then there should be no reason to keep her off the field, but sadly, it will be a long time before a woman shows the skills needed to join an NFL roster.

The entire football landscape is designed to streamline young men to the NFL. It’s a simple transition: Pee Wee football, to high school football, then collegiate ball and finally the glitz and glamour of the NFL. Along the way the skill set needed to compete in the NFL is slowly compiled and refined.

Women aren’t afforded this opportunity. There is no system of leagues designed to teach women the game of football. It’s often newsworthy when a young girl succeeds at pee wee football, and it’s rare to see a woman on a high school team who’s playing anything other than kicker. By college the male competition is just heads above the female athlete in terms of on the field knowledge and experience.

It’s far from being a question of physicality. Football is about more than just two people running into each other. It takes years of practice and determination to learn the proper techniques and maneuvers for a particular position.

It wouldn’t make sense for a NFL team to draft a female player who couldn’t compete with the other men. If a team did draft a woman who floundered at the combine it would be seen as a publicity stunt, and what self-respecting athlete, male or female, wants to be regulated to a money-making ploy.

Teams would inadvertently hurt the chances of any aspiring female football player striving to join the NFL ranks.

The entire football culture would have to change for a woman to make a NFL team, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Change is needed sometimes and it wouldn’t be that crazy of the NFL to start making an effort to teach football to young girls across the world.

It’s a steep hill to climb, and it might take decades, but one day a woman will break the gender barrier and lace up her cleats as the first female NFL player.

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Football system not ready for breaking the gender mold