Women's professional football: Fourth down and inches?

The still-growing sport remains just short of its goal.

Published July 19, 2006 3:27AM (EDT)

As a retired ice hockey player, I can tell you from experience that even when women's ice hockey debuted as an Olympic sport, people were still confused. They'd hear I played on a women's amateur team in Brooklyn, and they'd ask, "Wow, was that you guys in Nagano?" (And those were the people who didn't say, "Wait. Field hockey?")

But even I was surprised to read, in yesterday's New York Times, just how huge women's professional football has become. Yep. Women's professional football. Eighty teams, three leagues; passionate players. Love it. (That, and the fact that the Times piece appeared in Sports and not, say, Styles.)

Still, the progress of the sport has been hampered, in part, by disagreements among the three leagues. So in terms of general recognition, TV deals and corporate sponsorships -- say, "a company that can do for women's football what Virginia Slims did for women's tennis" -- women's football is facing a future almost as uncertain as it was when Salon's King Kaufman covered the sport in 2001. Indeed, as the Times notes, some of its players may "have to come to terms with the fact that if women's football ever entered the mainstream of American culture, that time [will] come long after [their] retirement from the game."

Will that time come? Sure could -- eventually -- if interest in joining the teams continues to grow. Owners report a "steady stream" of inquiries from potential players; this fall, in partnership with the NFL's youth development program, the New York Sharks will offer their first series of clinics for girls ages 14-17. Sounds like a good play to me.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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