Wednesday, May 14, 2008

NYT Profiles Women's Football

Women play football. If you didn't know that, read yesterday's New York Times.

In fact, there are more than 80 tackle football teams for women, all across the country. Many are affiliated with either the Independent Women's Football League or the National Women's Football Association.

The Times article profiles Jennifer Blum, who has played for the IWFL's New York Sharks since the team's inception in 2000. Blum is a New Jersey attorney, a former American Gladiator, and a 2002 alumna of Western New England College School of Law (how I wish that last fact had made it into the article!) As a kid, she fought and won a lawsuit to be able to play on the boys' all star community soccer team. Blum and her teammates seem aware of their role model status, working with the NFL's New York Giants to offer football clinics for girls. Blum's teammate, QB Karen Mulligan says they are "letting younger girls know this is something they can do."

And indeed, girls legally can play football -- though, technically, Title IX exempts schools from letting girls go out for boys teams in contact sports. But there are judicial decisions that rely on the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause to require community and other publically-sponsored football programs to let girls try out for boys' teams. Moreover, under Title IX, a school that does not offer athletic opportunities to girls in proportion to their enrollment (and most don't) can't easily turn down a request from female athletes to start a new team when there is sufficient interest and ability among the students and a reasonable likelihood of competition. The reasonable likelihood of competition would be an obstacle at first, but once the idea catches on in a few places, schools can no longer use that as an excuse. This scenario doesn't seem far fetched to me, as girls' lacrosse and hockey -- both nonexistent here in New England fifteen years ago when I was in high school -- seem to have followed this very pattern.

Could football be next? For those who hope it is, it certainly helps that there are women like Blum who are playing football, sharing their love of the game with girls, and receiving coverage in the New York Times. Now if only we could watch the Sharks play on ESPN...

[thanks, Sam!]