A Move in the Right Direction, Albeit Nineteen Yards

For a sport known more for their massive behemoths flying through the air, crashing into each other with the might of titans than their movements towards ensuring gender equality, American Football has taken their first step towards embracing the chance of women to play the sport professionally. “Times are changing,” explained the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, when the ban was lifted in December 2011. “The military is about to allow women into combat. If women are going to be fighting on the battlefield, how can we stop them from participating in football? It’s not fair.”

Needless to say, it has split opinion.

Lauren Silberman may not be a household name in this country or many others, but this week she became the first ever woman to try-out for the NFL in an official combine. These regional combines are the first step towards becoming an NFL player as success here can lead to being drafted into a team for the coming season. The 28-year old lined up as one of 37 kickers at one of ten regional trials for the elite American football competition, perhaps hoping to take inspiration from Greg “Legatron” Zuerlein who impressed at last year’s regional combines and has just enjoyed an excellent rookie season with the St Louis Rams. Unfortunately for Silberman, she joined the much larger group of athletes who fell by the way side.

With Silberman blaming a thigh injury in front of the gathered press and media, she managed just 19-yards with her first punt attempt and fought back the tears as she managed just 13-yards with her second attempt. What some describe as a brave effort from a woman too proud to admit defeat to her injury was referred to as a side-show by others – she refused to admit to the press her furthest kicking distance – who have described the whole débâcle as her attempt to gain fame, rather than having a real chance of joining the ranks of the Patriots or Ravens.

Silberman was however in a more reflective mood when meeting the awaiting press outside with an icepack around her leg. Stating first her disappointment that she was unable to kick through her injury, before stating that ‘I might be the first woman trying out for the NFL, but I certainly hope I’m not the last’. Perhaps that is the point of this story; that the success or failure of Silberman was never the final line of this article, that her mere attempt to join the National Football League is a major step in securing a future in which inter-gender sport becomes the norm, rather than an attempt of becoming article worthy. Although Silberman’s trial may not have had what it takes to become the next big NFL star, her name may very well be remembered as the person who kicked down the barrier preventing women from entering professional sport – even if she did only kick it 19 yards.

[Alan Compton]

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