Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2002/ 14 Tishrei, 5763

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Girly gridiron | Taylor Davison, a fifth grader from Bartlett, Illinois, died September 2, 2002 of a "subdural hematoma," a blood clot on the brain caused by a blow to the head. She had been hit so hard in football practice the preceding Wednesday that she fell to her knees, complained of a headache, and sat out three plays. On Friday she collapsed on the practice field. The only girl in a league of 400 players passed away in the hospital.

Why on earth was a 10-year-old girl playing tackle football? She "loved it," explained family and friends. My children love staying up all night, eating enough Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to fill the trunk of a Geo, and not going to school. But, activities they love are not always good for them or helpful with their development. How was Taylor's goal of becoming a veterinarian enhanced by playing nose tackle?

Everyone now dances about what needs to be said. Football is not a girls' sport. Come to think of it, football is not a man's sport either. It's an animal's sport, but men like pretending they are animals: wolves, hyenas, bears when they're on Wall Street after the 90s, bulls before, and sheep when they're Democrats. Football has wiped out the likes of Steve Young and Troy Aikman from one too many blows to the head. Lyndon Johnson said Gerald Ford's brainpower was diminished because of college football hits.

Feminists are clucking. Professor Mary Jo Kane, head of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport offers, "[s]ome sports, like football and boxing, are very dangerous. But no one ever says men are not biologically equipped to participate. No matter how many Muhammad Alis, now matter how many Mark Buonicontis-who became a quadriplegic [while playing college football in 1985] - we never suggest that. When a girl gets hurt, that's the first thing we talk about: Maybe girls shouldn't be playing."

Perhaps because they shouldn't. Human nature makes us blurt out truth. A little girl died senselessly from being hit too hard by boys. If we can't muster a little outrage over that, civilization comes to a screeching halt. Even Taylor's coach slipped as he described the effect of Taylor's death on his players, " It even took them awhile to get comfortable tackling again." I hope so. These young men just creamed a girl. A little gridiron reluctance is a boon.

But Professor Kane frets, "I hope that this accident doesn't scare other girls who want to play football. The risk isn't about being a girl, it's about playing a risky sport."

No worries there. Women infiltrate male-dominated fields, as it were, and gender down the standards. Football will be genderized. Junior football leagues will require sensitivity training and eliminate blocking. Coaches will reach critical thinking, not tackling. Sprinting will be banished because girls aren't as fast. Plaintiffs' lawyers in the greater Chicago area exercised restraint during the mourning and funeral. With the football team back in action, lawyers will tempt the Davisons with contingent fee rates. The demise of elementary school tackle football awaits. Its demise is not a bad plan, but rational thought, as opposed to negligence suits, should cause its downfall.

We genderized the military. Now Navy ships are full of equality, i.e., women heavy with child. Women demand the battlefield even as they whine about being called up for active duty when they have small children. The military has lowered its standards for everything from physical fitness tests to pilot training. Police and fire departments genderized strength requirements so that women could attain their desires despite the resulting increased risk for all of them and us.

There are physical differences between men and women, yet no one points the blame for Taylor's death in that direction. Newsweek asserts that there are too few studies on whether sports participation at this age is physiologically dangerous to jump to any gender conclusions. The New York Times struggled mightily to take the gender out of the death, noting that 6 players die each year from such head-related injuries.

The tragedy of this story is its gender issues, but not those on the field. Taylor grew up in an era devoid of historical perspective on the power of women. No one taught Taylor that strength doesn't always come from physical prowess. No one explained to Taylor that power doesn't spring from being a bully. Someone failed to tell Taylor that distinguishing yourself doesn't mandate invasion of a fairly silly sport. Taylor never learned that women don't have to lower themselves to male activities to be fulfilled.

I'm weary of the foul-mouthed, tough broads who demand infiltration of all aspects of life. Taylor's death leaves you longing for the subtle power of womanhood that once controlled nations without a single push, shove or tackle. Thanks to equality we're down there fighting it out on the field without the physical qualifications. Death does not become us.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings