Monday, March 04, 2013

She Gives A Kick

An historic event occured over the weekend, and I'm betting you didn't even hear about it.
The NFL allowed a woman to try out for the first time in professional football. By all accounts, it did not go well:

[Lauren] Silberman kicked only twice. They were two kickoffs for a total of 30 yards. Only one crossed the midfield stripe – by a yard. After that, her day was over because she said she aggravated a quad injury she suffered in practice last week.

In the NFL, the ball is placed on the defense's 35 yard line, which means it must make it 65 yards to the other team's defensive end zone for a kicker to be considered effective. Granted, with an injury to a quad, a kicker is going to be far from effective which begs the question why not take a miss on this tryout and find a way to latch onto a team's training camp as a walk-on?

Sadly, the perception from the NFL owners and general managers will probably be more sexist than that.

Naturally, women have a hard row to hoe in making it to the major league level in professional sports. Abuot the only woman I can recall actually being on a major league roster of any kind was Manon Rheaume, who signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL and played in a couple of exhibition games before being released. She then played for the Atlanta Knights in the International Hockey League where she became the first woman to ever appear in an American professional sports league.

Other women who have gotten nibbles from American professional sports teams include Ann Meyers, who was given a tryout with the NBA Indiana Pacers in 1980, signing a $50,000 no-cut contract, the first woman ever to sign a major league contract, Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam, both of whom were admitted to at least one men's PGA tour event (neither making the cut), and Japanese pitcher Eri Yoshida, who has been scouted by a couple of MLB teams.

It's hard to imagine a woman making it to the NFL -- the risk of injury due to size differences alone make it unlikely -- but a kicker would be a good place to start, to be sure. And to be honest, I'm rather surprised that no woman has made it to major league baseball as a pitcher. Some women softballers can throw in excess of 100 mph regularly and an underhand motion would make for an attractive change of pace (pardon the baseball pun) to the overhand delivery of most male pitchers.
Even a knuckleballer, like Yoshida, would have little problem duplicating the speed of pitches thrown by reigning Cy Young Award winner R. A. Dickey.
I think it's really a matter of time and development. I suspect in my lifetime, we'll see a woman idolized in professional sports the way a Jackie Robinson was.