Football Girls and Very Bad Parenting

When Jane was in the fourth grade she wanted to play football. What you may or may not know is that within the private schools in Los Angeles there are intramural sports starting in fourth grade. During the fall season the boys play football and the girls play basketball. Three years ago Jane wanted to play football with the boys. I said no.

I love sports. I play a lot of tennis, I’ve coached Jane’s soccer, before I was a soccer mom I was soccer girl. Sports matter for their own sake. I’m the mom that gets it.

Maybe I’m the mom that only sort of gets it.

When Jane wanted to play football with the boys I could see what she wanted. She wanted to prove to them that she was equal, she wanted to show the other girls that she was faster, stronger and smarter than the boys and the girls, everyone really. Jane wanted to physically dominate. I said no. Mr. G. said no to Jane and we didn’t offer her an answer, we just vetoed the whole football notion and sent her off to play a crappy game of basketball. Jane’s fourth grade teacher said I should fight for her to play football. We didn’t reflect on this, as we were pretty sure we did the right thing.

Alexander is in the fifth grade and he is on the football team. This year there is a fourth grade girl on the team. At the dinner table Alexander would talk about how there was a girl and at practice he had to block her. “You’re not allowed to hit her.” I’d say. Mr. G. would roll his eyes and ask why there’s a girl on the team. I’d be unable to answer, Alexander would be unable to answer, and Jane would just glare at us and say, “I wanted to play football but you wouldn’t let me.” I’d smile and say, “You’re not allowed to block a girl, tell your coach your mom won’t let you.” and then we’d move on to another topic.

Alexander would occasionally revisit how awful it is to practice football with a girl on the team. He’d moan about how it sucks when you can’t block the person you’re practicing with. I’d nod, Mr. G. would remind him to be nice to her.

They played a game today. It was a good game and the team dominated but I felt conflicted about it. I liked the little girl being there and I felt like her very presence was a victory for little girls everywhere. At the same moment I felt like her very presence ruined the experience for the boys.

I understand wanting the world to be equal. I understand wanting all the same opportunities. I also understand wanting boys to play boy games.

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  1. Liz Henry

    Kids that little aren’t particularly physically different. Why would you let your son play this but not your daughter? I’m confused as to your point!

    • They are very different and I don’t want my son hitting a girl, even in sport.

    • I’m equally confused as to why he can’t block the little girl. Mom seems to be sending some mixed – and potenitally self esteem damaging – messages here.

  2. I honestly don’t get it. If there was a girl on my son’s team I’d tell him to treat her like any other player. When you’re on a team .. you’re not a girl, you’re not a boy, you’re a player.

    • Anonymous

      And this is exactly what I would tell my daughter if she wanted to play in a typically male sport, or on a team with all males.  “They will hurt you like you are a boy.  Are you prepared for that?”  She would not get special consideration because she is a girl. 

      That said…In my area we do not have a boy = football, girl = basketball situation.  It’s a girl = cheerleader situation.  If you want to be a girl & play a sport you are relegated to cheerleading & soccer.  That’s it.  Boys have football, basketball, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, hockey, etc.  The co-ed teams stop at school aged.  Once they’re school age they’re segregated by gender.  Then once they’re in highschool the options open up again.  EXCEPT that boys have been playing for years & highschool is just four more years of play…And often the girls haven’t been playing straight through from the time they were 5 to 15. 

      The biggest issue in the area here, though…even when I can overlook the options for girls…Is that the coaches ignore the military kids…b/c they won’t go to highschool here.  Or are very very very unlikely to go to highschool here.  So when the coach realizes the kid is “wasted talent” to them…they bench you & play the kids who will live there for eternity.  Which to me…Is shittier any day than simply having less options for girls.

  3. Anonymous

    Alexander should absolutely block her just as he would an other team mate.  There is no such thing as “boy games”. 

  4. First, I like your new site!  Second, I admit that my girls are very young and we haven’t experienced the youth sports yet so I have zero experience as a parent in this

    But… I hope the little girls presence didn’t ruin the experience for the boys.  They can play all boys football in another setting, and I’m sure they’ll have countless opportunities to do that.  Maybe this is a new experience for the boys that’s just as important as the all-boys football game?   This experience could be about navigating and integrating difference with grace.  I agree with you – he needs to take it easy on a girl.  That’s just good manners.

    When I was 12, I wanted to play basketball.  My parents signed me up at the YMCA on the co-ed league, but there were no other girls playing at all.  I was the only one.  When I realized that, I wanted to quit.  But they wouldn’t let me and I played the entire season.  I was miserable kinda.  But I did meet 2 boys on my team that were just as bad as I was and we’re actually really good friends to this day.  So overall, here I am and it’s all good. 

    Don’t worry so much ;)  You’re an unbelievably good mom!

  5. One of the basketball games I play in is one where any member is allowed to play. We have two people who routinely show up and ruin the game for everyone.
    They ruin it because they have no athletic ability and no understanding of how the game is supposed to be played. So in the interest of being “fair” two people ruin a game for 8 others.
    There are lots of ways to help our daughters feel confident, strong and independent that don’t require inserting them into a setting that has a negative impact upon others.
    But if they are going to play than they shouldn’t be treated any differently than any other player on the field.

    • Anonymous

      Girls don’t inherently not know how to play a game.  Those people could prepare themselves by learning rules or practicing with a better player at other times of the week. 

      Being uneducated ruins a game.  Not being a girl. I do agree with not treating them differently…But It’s really not the same as showing up & not knowing how to play (or just playing badly).

      • If you are going to play a team sport you have a responsibility to yourself and to those you play with to learn how to play the game. That is true regardless of gender.

  6. Tell Jane that if you play football with boys (like I did in 4th grade) you’ll end up flat on your back with a fractured tailbone. True story.

  7. Marianne

    Are 4th grade football games tackle or flag?  I played co-ed flag football at camp and at school with no special rules for girls vs boys.  It was fun and I realized through this that I had no eye-hand coordination and should stick to soccer or kickball.

    • Anonymous

      For typical Pop Warner…4th grade boys play tackle football.

  8. Pretty much all sports used to be male only.  Girls might break their hymens, or damage their faces, or who knows what.  I like girls in football. 

    • Anonymous

      No joke:  In 1999, when I was in my late teens I was barred from playing with some boys from my church b/c sometimes the men would come outside to play, too.  The TEENS would go out after church & start to play.  Then the slightly more fit adult males would also go outside and join in.  They were “uncomfortable” playing with a young girl.  I was on a highschool team.  I had training…And I was a pretty damn good player.  When the pastor took me aside one day he wanted to tell me that the other men simply were concerned b/c I might get a scar on my face or be hurt during the game.  In 2 years of playing…I was one of the few people NOT injured or scarred.

      I actually stopped going to the church shortly after that.  I told my parents I couldn’t go every Sunday & listen to a sexist asshole preach about loving they neighbor & treating others as you would want them to treat you.

  9. It’s not the girl who is ruining the game. It’s the rules that prevent her from being a full part of the game. Unfair to all involved. Really a shame.

  10. Desi Valentine

    I’m not sure how I feel about football for either of my kids.  The Frontline documentary on the cumulative effect of blows to the head sort of ruined it for me.  I do think that if there is a girl on the team, the rules for her should be the same as for all of the other players.  If she can’t take a hit, she shouldn’t be on the field.

  11. AWW

    What if it was the other way and your son wanted to play basketball with the girls and not football?  Would you refuse?
    I agree with another comment that in the game, they are not boys or girls, they are players.  Football at this age should have minimal injuries whether it be from a boy or girl that is playing.  Boys and girls are similar in size at this age so is there a need to segregate them in sports?
    And you don’t need to be playing a sport to get hurt. My daughter received a serious broken leg by walking by a chain link fence that someone was climbing on and jumped down from and landed on her.  No sports necessary for a severe injury.  I would have rather had her playing a ‘boy’ sport and get hurt than just be hanging out with other five year olds during recess.

    • I absolutely would not let my son play basketball on a girls team. That one doesn’t require a second thought. I can even speak for Mr G on that one.

  12. I am on your side here, Jessica.  SAME and EQUAL are two different things. Boys and girls, men and women, are equal in rights and in dignity. We are equal in potential to change the world.  But it doesn’t mean we are, or should be, the SAME.  Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating differences?  Are’t we supposed to be glorifying diversity?  Well saying that boys and girls should all be doing and acting the same is, frankly, an insult to the idea of celebrating and glorifying *differences*.  We are equal, but we are different.  And I like it that way.

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