Equal Opportunity?

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July 19, 2005
Equal Opportunity?

by Bob Hulsey

One time I was watching an Astros game and the subject of the Designated Hitter came up. Like any true National League fan, I said I was against it and said one of the reasons is the amount of strategy lost with the DH. By having one player in the lineup who is not expected to hit well (the pitcher), you force teams to think around them and whether to substitute a pitcher to improve the chances of scoring or keep him in with the hope he keeps the other team from scoring. I said it was like forcing every team to have a girl in their lineup.

By now, I’m used to the hoots of reaction this gets but I think you would find that, if forced to have a girl in their lineup, teams would open up opportunities and plan new strategies around women players that would make the games more entertaining – and isn’t entertainment what we are ultimately seeking?
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue gets on his high horse about black head coaches and the need for diversity, going so far as to threaten fines if teams won’t interview blacks for head coaching jobs. Clearly, Tags is interested in opportunity but I don’t think he goes far enough.

The NFL should have women players, and I don’t mean like Kathy Ireland kicking field goals in "Necessary Roughness". Or like supermodels in the "Lingerie Bowl". Sorry, guys. I’m talking about a rule requiring every NFL team to have at least one woman player on every snap – not on the field as eye candy but as legitimate athletes.

If women can be over in Iraq fighting for our country, why can’t they play a little football back at home?

C’mon. Haven’t you ever looked at Mama McNabb in those soup commercials and thought "With a little work, she could be a decent blocking back"? I have.

Sports in the 21st Century is all about marketing and product placement. What put the Indianapolis 500 back on the map this year? It wasn’t the guy who won the race but the little lady, Danica Patrick, who finished fourth. It was all the sports media could talk about. Ms. Patrick makes the cover of Sports Illustrated while what’s-his-name that actually won the race still lingers in obscurity.

Yes, there was Janet Guthrie, Shirley Muldowney and others before Patrick but none had her pop appeal. She’s like the Anna Kournikova of auto racing. And, before long, somebody is going to stick that gal onto the NASCAR circuit with a car sponsored by Tampax and Betty Crocker, whirring around the oval with the Good Ol’ Boys. One can only hope the car won’t be pink. Ratings will skyrocket. The marketing possibilities will be limitless.

The biggest ratings-grabber in golf right now is when Annika Sorenstam or Michelle Wie hit the links with the men. True, a few men will be forced to reconsider their career paths after getting skunked by a 15-year-old girl but that’s not such a bad thing either. ESPN may already own stock in Ms. Wie the way they are promoting her but there’s no question it makes business sense to do so. She could be very marketable for a very long time.

That’s why the NFL should follow the trend. Of course, finding female football players will be a little tough at first but, before long, they will be scouted and signed just like the guys are, timed and trialed, given the Wunderlic test and so forth. Free agents will be brought in and their competitive value will lead to big money contracts, just as it does for left tackles and middle linebackers.

Just wait until the media gets ahold of the first female football star that carries herself like Terrell Owens or Deion Sanders. The NFL would never be the same after that.

Think of the strategy this rule change would cause. Does Bill Belichick line up a girl in the nickel package like he did with Troy Brown? Does Mike Martz line up a girl wide and use her for underneath routes as the men go deep? Who does the other team cover her with or do they not bother to cover her at all? Would Joe Gibbs or Dick Vermeil run plays directly at a woman linebacker if it was a critical 4th-and-one? How does Bill Parcells motivate Terry Glenn if he can’t call him "she"?

Sure, 90 percent of the women out there will say "Play football? Not me!" but before long there would be role models and scouting and weight training and you could have some gals who could really play. Imagine what they could be worth someday as free agents. And the marketing possibilities are endless.

To make it easier for the refs, the women would dress in the alternate jersey so you could quickly tell if each team has one on the field (think soccer goalies). The referee and the back judge would be responsible to make sure there was one on every play (meaning teams would have to carry at least two so the roommate thing is already covered).

Perhaps we can even make football a 12-player game so no men are out of a job and the added player on the field can give the game all sorts of new wrinkles. Like the two-point conversion and instant replay, coaches will complain at first but they’ll eventually get used to it and learn how to make it work for them.

To ease the transition, we can have two years to experiment with this in NFL Europe. Maybe this will even interest the French, those wusses. The European league already makes allowances for foreign-born football players so why not female football players?

Then the new rules would come to America and football can become a total family experience. Women will stop complaining to the men about watching football all weekend and actually watch it themselves. It may never replace their favorite contact sport (shopping) but it will force enough new eyeballs to pay attention and that’s what the NFL really needs.

Sure, there will be subtle changes. Shoulder pads will need to be redesigned. Butt slapping after a good play will probably be a more dicey proposition. Locker rooms will need to have some major renovations. Injury reports will now include players sidelined for broken fingernails. Maybe we’ll see the first crying celebration after scoring a touchdown. But, hey, we’re a country that’s all for equality and we can learn to adapt too.

Probably the last position to see a change will be center. I mean, a gal is going to have to show a lot of trust when she is bent over all day with a guy standing behind her awaiting the snap. But that barrier, too, will someday be crossed and it will be breathlessly hyped in the media just like black quarterbacks used to be.

And as those barriers are crossed, Madison Avenue will be lining up with checks in their hands wanting the ladies to pitch all sorts of products that used to be the sole domain of Joe Namath (it’s an old joke – go ask your parents). Pete Rozelle may spin in his grave but the NFL would just be cementing its place as the 800-pound gorilla of professional sports. The younger Pete would have understood. It’s just good business.

Bob Hulsey is willing to open his column space to any rebuttals from women on this issue. Click the link on the right and let him know what you think.

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