Exactly zero females have ever played in the NFL. Why?
As the United States of America prepares to watch the 55th edition of professional football’s championship game, female bodies are notably absent from both teams.
Invented by veterans of the American Civil War as a means of training young men for the rigors of modern battle, the American game of tackle football has never included many women at all, and never more than one at a time, at any level.
Indeed, the National Football League has never had a female player on the field. Only a handful of women have ever played at the college level, and less than 0.2 percent of high school football players were female in 2019, the highest rate ever recorded.
The exclusion of women from the game has historically been justified by the immutable differences in athletic performance of male and female bodies. Males have denser bones and muscle mass, average height and weight advantages, as well as greater speed and endurance, all thanks to the effects of adolescent testosterone on a body with Y chromosomes in every cell.
Those advantages are keenly felt on the gridiron, where every snap of the ball is accompanied by many hard collisions.
So why is there no women’s tackle football league? Until rather recently, women were kept out of the game for fear that they would suffer more injuries, especially those with knock-on effects, such as breast cancer from repeated bruising of chest tissue.
However, Title IX creates a structural reason for the absence of women’s football. Because it is the most expensive team sport played on any university campus, men’s tackle football creates an imbalance of spending — one that colleges have addressed by funding women’s teams in other sports, such as volleyball. So creating women’s football teams would force a reduction in spending on other women’s sports.
A close examination of the few women who do play tackle football is also quite revealing.
In 2019, Toni Harris also became the very first female position player to win a college scholarship. Her 5’7″ height and 164-lb weight are less disadvantageous at the safety position than, say, a guard or tackle position.
Furthermore, because Harris is a defensive player, she will do far more hitting than being hit.
So far, no female has ever played a line position in college or the NFL. No female quarterback, halfback, or fullback has ever thrown or carried the ball. None has ever scored a touchdown, a field goal, or a safety.
Aside from Harris, every female tackle football player above the high school level has been a placekicker.
Sarah Fuller made waves last season by kicking two extra points for Vanderbilt. She follows in the cleated footsteps of Liz Heaston, the first woman to kick an extra point in a college game in 1997, and Katie Hnida, who was the first female to score a point after touchdown (PAT) at a Division I school.
Rebecca Longo, subject of much press attention when she became the first woman to win a football scholarship at an NCAA school in 2017, eventually wound up kicking at a junior college.
All of these athletes should be respected for their achievements. However, the fact that almost all of them are placekickers demands to be understood in the context of the game.
At every level, placekickers do the least running, blocking, and tackling of anyone on the field. Only very rarely do you ever see a placekicker throwing or carrying the ball on a “trick play.”
Of all the positions on a football field, placekickers enjoy the greatest protection from hits of any kind. Even accidentally bumping into a placekicker usually draws a penalty. This is true at every level of the game.
It’s almost as if the strongest, fastest women in sports are aware that they lack the mass and speed to compete with men at a full-contact game of collisions and prefer to play the one position where their skills might be competitive.
So it is very likely that the “first woman to play in the NFL” will not be female at all, but a man who “identifies” as female. No doubt that person will be hailed as a heroine, put on the Wheaties box, and celebrated for breaking barriers.
Girls will still be there to watch. After all, every football team needs cheerleaders, right?