Kickers, punters and women in the NFL

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punters are people tooLet’s be honest–kickers and punters are the women of the NFL. No one expects them to tackle and everyone kind of giggles when they do. There are special rules in place to prevent anyone from touching their legs. They spend a great deal of their time feeling nervous and then erupting into totally unmanly displays of emotion (think of the Gramatica’s). They are only marginally a part of the team. If an NFL team were on a boat and it was sinking, the kickers and punters would be the first ones overboard. Rich Eisen may believe that, “Punters are people, too.” But the fact that he has to make a t-shirt convincing people of punters’ humanity only lends further support to the argument that, like women, kickers and punters are the NFL’s second class citizens.

It makes sense, then, that if women are to ever play in the NFL, it would first be as a kicker or a punter. Lauren Silberman will become the first woman to try out at a regional NFL combine this spring and she will do so as a kicker. Kudos to the NFL as an organization for allowing such a thing to happen. Ms. Silberman is a long-shot to make a team, but even a long-shot is better than no shot at all.

Many diehard fans may not see kickers and punters as real football players, but games are won or lost on their feet. Imagine a woman kicking the winning field goal in the Super Bowl. In 2012, the NFL confirmed that there was no rule against women playing in the league; that’s still a far cry from a team actually drafting a woman to play. But with the opportunity now open, perhaps a whole new generation of young girls will start lining up in front of the goal posts. As a kicker in the NFL, they’d have the opportunity to make more money playing a sport professionally than is possible anywhere outside of tennis for women; that should constitute some incentive.

Lauren Silberman

Lauren Silberman

There are some who would argue that, regardless of NFL rules, it still isn’t possible for a woman to make it as a kicker on an NFL team, let alone at any other position. It is just one of the things that women will never be able to do. There’s a long list of things about which this exact argument has been made, and a lot of them have had to be crossed off that list. A woman will never be able to beat a man in tennis. Women will never be able to break the 3 hour barrier for the marathon. Women will never be able to dunk. Women will never be able to beat men in a slam dunk contest. You’d think this would make people a bit hesitant to make claims about the things women will never be able to do.

As a sociologist, I understand that success in a given sport is about much more than biological ability. In the early 20th century, it was Jewish men who were seen as biologically superior basketball players, while leading scientists predicted that African-Americans were so physically inferior that their race would eventually become extinct. If you had told someone then that in fact, African-Americans would come to dominate professional basketball, they might have dismissed that as yet another thing that was simply impossible.

It’s hard to know what women might be capable of athletically speaking. I’m glad the NFL, at least in practice, has left the door open for any women who can prove they’re capable of stepping through.

Field goals today. Touchdowns tomorrow.

Update:

Many helpful commenters have pointed out to me that in the disturbing event that some freakish woman violated her feminine nature and learned how to kick and/or punt, and assuming this eventuality did not bring about a fiery apocalypse, women would never be tough enough to tackle or be tackled. I won’t point out all the positions in the NFL that require neither tackling nor being tackled (though their numbers are growing as defense slowly disappears). I get it. I’m a woman, but I think I can wrap my mind around this. What they’re saying is…

This woman could never handle tackling or being tackled:

shot put

 

But this man could:

cundiff

 

This woman would, I think, maybe, faint with fear?

ufc

 

But this guy would not.

eagles kicker

 

These woman can’t tackle because their fragile woman parts would suffer permanent damage.

rugby

 

But just look at this guy, right?

 

gramatica

 

I get it now. Thanks.

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Comments

  1. I didn’t know that the NFL had admitted that there is no rule against women playing. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    In other news, all I could think of whilst reading this post was the episode from season 1 of Glee, where Kirk auditions for the kicker on the team, to the tune of Put A Ring On It.

    • You put that song in my head for the whole rest of the day, Emily. There was technically no rule against women playing because it had just never occurred to them that a woman might try. Just the conversations about whether women might play or not should be interesting!

  2. This is literally the most ridiculous article ever written. If you say a woman could never beat a man in tennis, then you couldn’t be more wrong about their chances for NFL success. Division III or NAIA college football, maybe. But there is literally a zero percent chance that a woman will ever play a snap in the NFL at any position, especially kicker or punter.

    To kick at that level, one must be equally flexible, powerful, accurate, and mentally tougher than everyone else on the field. There are 20-30 extremely talented and qualified kickers at home each and every Sunday in the NFL. Every single one if them is a better choice for a workout than the best female kicker imaginable.

    • Thanks for commenting, Nick. Obviously, we disagree. A woman has beat a man at tennis; this was one item on my list of things that people once believed women would never be able to do, and which have been proven wrong. I believe women can be flexible (in fact, more flexible than men), powerful, accurate and mentally tough. And I believe that some women can be just as good at all those things as some men.

      • Robin,

        I don’t disagree that women are as good, and better, than men at many things. Where we disagree is that “kickers are the women of the NFL.” As the only one in this thread that actually punted in the NFL, I take offense to that statement. It’s by no means easy or common to get there, let alone stay there.

        You could’ve just as easily said women could be good O-linemen or Quarterbacks. You’d have been no more right or wrong making such a statement.

  3. This is completely ignorant and I completely disagree with you. Punting and Kicking are two of the hardest things to do in sports. And NFL punters, although they are much smaller than the average D-Line, are very strong and built. Most of which played many different positions growing up. Most NFL punters are around 6’5′ weighing around 245 pounds. If a women can kick 40 yarders consistently in full pads with a rush, more power to her. But until that happens the NFL will never even look into this. The girl that tried out for the NFL kicked worse than most middle school kids and barely hit a 40yd kickoff. As a college punter who plays in the SEC I can tell you how difficult it is. This is very offensive and ignorant.

    • What are your qualifications? And what sport did you play and what level??

    • It’s clear that to male kickers and punters being compared to a woman is offensive. That is kind of the point. I do NOT actually believe that kickers and punters are weak, or wimpy or not real athletes. I don’t believe this of women, either. Some of the comments on this post are interesting for two reasons: 1. There is a really strong investment in convincing me and the rest of the world that women will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be able to play in the NFL. I always ask myself WHY people are so invested in believing that something will never happen… 2. It’s clear that it is really and truly deeply insulting to be compared to a woman. I myself am a woman. So what does that mean that one of the worse things you can call a someone is….me?

  4. This article is ridiculous, Robyn you are a terrible Sociologist and if you happen to be a man, you clearly have a complex stemming from your feminine name. Kickers and punters are a crucial part of the game of football. Are they involved with the more violent part of the game? Not usually but are involved in tackling on occasion. For you to call them a marginal part of a team is ignorant. I am more than positive you have never played either position at a competitive level or I am positive you would not waste time writing this article. Furthermore, the NFL is a business, one that involves investment and minimizing risk. Do you really think an NFL team who’s season and profitability may be decided on the shoulders of their kicker, would risk millions of dollars on a female, whom if the time came, may need to make some kind of tackle, would be absolutely destroyed by the grown men of the NFL? The answer is no, sorry.

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