As we filed out of the classroom that afternoon, Ms. Tucker stood in the doorway handing out forms. I stopped, held out my hand, and heard, “No, Leslie. This is just for the boys,” as I felt her hand gently nudge me out the door.
Just for the boys.
Nothing ruffled my feathers worse than hearing I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl. I had been in school with these boys since Kindergarten and I knew I could out-run, out-jump, and out-climb most of them. Not all, but most.
I managed to take a form from a classmate and read it. It was an invitation to any interested boys to try out for baseball. I had never played baseball before, never had any interest in baseball (other than my shoe boxes full of player cards), but suddenly found myself with an intense desire to play ball just because someone told me that I could not play. Having been conditioned (by my mom and many after-school programs) to believe that I can do anything, rejecting authority and attending try-outs came quite easily to me.
Try outs were rough. Boys laughed at me just for showing up. I played hard and made a team. I felt like I had proven my point: I proved that I could play with the boys. Then I exercised my gender’s birthright…I changed my mind. I didn’t really enjoy the game. I had gotten what I really wanted: attention.
That memory resurfaced this morning when I read in today’s paper that two girls in our area made their middle school’s football team.
The first girls to join the Hillcrest Middle School football team challenged the status quo by going out for spring practice this year. Competing against more than 100 guys, Lindsey and Lowery endured the two weeks of spring drills and were among the 70 players who made the cut and were selected for the roster.
These two girls were not the only girls to try out, but they are the only two who’ve made the cuts from 128 total students to the final 70 players on TaMarcus Pruitt’s team.
According to Pruitt, the girls’ athleticism set them apart from the other girls and many of the boys on the team. Padded up for tackling, the only thing that sets them apart are their long blonde ponytails.
“It’s hard to tell a girl you can’t do something,” Pruitt said. “When they came out onto the field, they were ready to play.
“You can’t judge a player on their gender. To me, they’re just players.”
While the coach sounds fair and progressive, his attitude toward the girls is not healthy. He could not be more wrong. The girls may be athletic and better players than the boys who didn’t make the cuts, but they are not just like the other guys on the team. Off the field, the coach and other players attempt to respect the girls: they do not share a locker room. On the field, however, it’s a different story.
“In the beginning the players said they didn’t want to hit a girl, but I told them that if they wanted to play, they were going to play football. They were hesitant at first, but they’ve definitely accepted them,” Pruitt said.
First, the boys, rightly taught that they ought never hit a girl, are being encouraged to do so. Second, there are some boys who enjoy hitting the girls a little too much.
“The guys are either scared to hit us (or) some are extra rough,” she said. “If they do hit me hard, I just hit them back.”
Finally, these two girls are conditioning themselves to respond with greater roughness, to act like boys. This is not good.
I can only imagine how these three responses will play out during a real game. They may encounter teams with coaches who encourage their boys to treat the girls just like one of them — to hit as hard as they can. They will encounter other teams with young men who will have problems playing with the girls. I wonder if there are some young men who will refuse to play on principle, who will stand aside and allow a touchdown. I hope there are some coaches out there who refuse to play against a team that will put girls on the field. As Nancy Wilson writes in Building Her House, “Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one.”
As a mother of two daughters and two sons, I am uneasy about the whole situation. I would not want my sons, under a coach’s authority, encouraged to tackle a girl. On the other hand, I would not want a coach (of any sport) to encourage my daughters to be rough, tough, and masculine.
What about the long-term consequences? The girls’ involvement may have detrimental consequences on how the boys on the team (perhaps even the school) learn to relate to girls later in life. What about the physical consequences on those young girls’ developing bodies? What about their self-image? What about their sense of femininity, minimal as it is? There may not be any detrimental consequences in the long-term. Those are just some of the questions I have. Ultimately, though, I do believe this is more than simply a personal preference/athletic ability issue.