At a small sports training facility on November 21, in Astoria, Queens the New York Sharks, part of the Independent Women’s Football League, held the second of three total team tryouts for the season. Tryouts were open to all women ages 18 or older, football knowledge and background – not necessarily required.
In total, eleven new players showed up on Saturday to run drills, practice various plays and showoff their overall athletic abilities. Of those who attended the first tryout, seven were welcomed to the team and with a quick look at the athleticism of those who came out for round two, it’s looking like several more will be joining them.
As the longest operating women’s professional football team, the Sharks have a rich history in the professional football arena. However, as more attention is now being paid to women’s sports and female athletes in general, organizations like the New York Sharks are seeing a steady rise in interest from both new potential players and the general public.
“There is an upswing right now in enthusiasm for women’s pro football…finally, because of women participating in the NFL,” said Collette Smith, Assistant Defensive Backs coach for the Sharks. “And also soccer…the Women’s World Cup. Seeing that is a big boost for women athletes.”
With this undeniably positive trend in female participation in sports typically dominated by men, major events like the Women’s World Cup being heavily covered in the media and the rise of female superstar athletes like Ronda Rousey, it’s no wonder that more women are interested in being a part of organizations like the IWFL. After many years of being the little brother (or sister) of the sports world, it seems women are finally being taken seriously as athletes and influential sports figures.
However, when it comes to playing football, at least the type the general public thinks of, participation from women is still highly criticized. The newly popular LFL, also known as the Lingerie Football League, may be welcomed by it’s starry-eyed viewers but it’s not necessarily admired by those who want to make sure that as athletes, women who participate in professional football are taken seriously and respected.
“I do not support it at all,” said Smith. “I would not want any little girl to have to think that they have to wear a bra and underwear out to play a sport to be recognized. We should be recognized because we are women who want to play football in the right way.”
Along with the issues surrounding women playing football in little more than bikinis and shoulder pads, the fact that females play football at all is still highly controversial. Part of the mission of the Sharks and other organizations within the IWFL is to allow the public to see that as football players, the difference in the sexes is minimal.
“I’m a physical education teacher. Yes, to a degree there is definitely separation of strength, no we can’t get as big as the guys but were just as competitive,” said Karen Mulligan, the team’s starting quarterback and a fifteen-year veteran. “We play by the same rules, use the same equipment and no we’re not as big as the guys but the hard work, effort, sacrifices, competitiveness; it’s all the same. Absolutely the same.”
As media coverage and recognition for female athletes continues to increase, it’s like the Sharks will only see a rise in interest. Legitimizing women as serious athletes may be an uphill battle, but it’s definitely one the Sharks are ready for.
For those who missed previous tryouts, a third round will be held in January and the season is due to begin in April.
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