Throw Like a Girl: 11-Year-Old Caroline Pla’s Appeal To Play Tackle Football

Caroline Pla

Caroline Pla on “Ellen.” Go Irish!

Both of my sons play in the local YMCA flag football league. It’s a pretty tame version of the game, but the kids do bonk heads or trip over each other, so injury is a risk. They will not be playing tackle football, as much as my husband and I both love the sport, because we shy away from exposing them to that level of contact, and they haven’t shown any desire to do so anyway.

If they did, as 11-year-old Caroline Pla of Doylestown, PA did when she was 3 years old, attending her older brother’s Pop Warner football games and declaring that she would play too when she got old enough, I would certainly consider it.  After all, my boys are biwatch​appearance on “Ellen,”​​​g, fast (when they want to be) and smart enough to avoid injury if they can help it.

And so it went with Pla, who signed up for football as soon as she was of age (5) and went on to play every year after that, coming into her own as defensive end and offensive guard. At first, she told Ellen Degeneres during a January appearance on “Ellen,” the boys were “Like woah, there’s a girl,” and acting “weird” around her.  But Caroline’s favorite part of football is the contact.  The boys soon got used to her.  “I put them on their butt,” she said.  “Now they treat me like one of them.”

Last season, it seems that a family from one of the opposing teams complained to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which runs the CYO football league that includes Pla’s team, that Pla shouldn’t be playing because the rules exclude girls.  At first, the plan was to kick her out of the league immediately, but cooler heads prevailed and the league at least let her finish out the season.  Now, however, it is questionable whether she will be allowed to play in the future.

The issue made local and then national news when Pla’s mother put a petition up on that currently has over 100,000 supporters, including Degeneres herself.

Pla’s coach, her family, and her teammates have all appealed to the Archdiocese, which has the issue under review.  In a statement sent to me via email, Kenneth A. Gavin, Associate Director of Communications, tells me that ” the Archdiocese has approached this situation in a fair manner at every turn.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) currently designates football as a full contact sport for boys only. It is important to note that most CYO sports are designated by gender, with some sports offering separate leagues for boys and girls. These measures are taken in an effort to ensure a safe and appropriate playing environment for all participants.

Traditionally football is a boys only sport due to its full contact nature.   Most parents and players have preferred this; some now disagree.  An archdiocesan panel of coaches, parents, pastors and experts in the sports medicine and pediatrics fields will evaluate the current rule.  Calls for an immediate change in the policy are premature and unwise without adequate consultation, especially given the potential safety issues involved. A final decision in this regard is expected by mid-March of 2013.

Meanwhile in Utah, 9-year-old Samantha Gordon, who reached YouTube fame after an incredible season playing tackle football with boys, spent the weekend in New Orleans for Super Bowl 47, hanging out with VIP’s of American professional football as a guest of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.  “The Commish invited me because he thought it was awesome that I played tackle football with the boys,” Gordon wrote on her blog for ESPN.  Gordon attended several pre-game events and photo ops, and sat with Goodell in a box at the game itself, where she was shown on television in a cutaway.

 Is this just a publicity stunt by the NFL and ESPN and all of the other agencies involved with Gordon’s Super Bowl weekend?  Or do they really think it’s awesome that she’s a girl playing tackle football, and by promoting her so much are they putting their stamp of approval on the practice?

 Pla’s story prompts many to ask “should girls be allowed to play football?”  The fact here is that she signed up and played for several years before someone realized that there was rule against girls playing in her league and decided to enforce it.  Pla has played all this time without incident, so her safety is only at the same risk as that of her male teammates. Gordon’s success carried her all the way to (a box seat at) the Super Bowl.  Now that the rule excluding girls, which was once considered to preserve their safety, has been shown to be unnecessary, why not?

Leave a Comment: