A couple weeks ago the New York Times ran a story about a high school girl who was playing quarterback for her team in Florida. Erin DiMeglio is the third string quarterback at South Plantation High School near Ft. Lauderdale. She’s not the first girl to play on a high school football team in the state but she is the first quarterback.
Photos from Sun Senintel/Getty
What struck me most about the story was that DiMeglio was incorporated into the team completely, without issue. The only issue for the team, from the coaches to the players, was whether she was good enough to be on the team. Well, they did worry about how well she would take a hit, but mostly because she had not played organized tackle football before. The answer is that she does just fine, and even snuck into a few drills to get a little more practice.
DiMeglio started as a manager for the team and never seriously considered trying out until the coach saw her play for the girls’ flag football team and invited her to give playing in pads and a helmet a try. She jumped at the chance and made the team. She saw playing time in a preseason and made her regular season debut in the final minutes of her team’s September 1 victory.
The NY Times story suggested a couple of adjustments the coaches have made to protect DiMeglio, such as having her take the snap out of the shotgun, but when ESPN talked to her coach, he stated the change wasn’t to protect her but simply because she can’t see as well over the giant linemen, some of whom are a full foot taller than she is. No special treatment, just different strategy to help her be successful.
What struck me from both the NY Times and ESPN articles is how much her success on the team depends on her coach. It is clear that he wants her on the team because she’s good and will not tolerate any derogatory comments or negative reactions from his players. DiMeglio’s mother, Kathleen asked her daughter about her treatment on the team:
“As a mother, one of my concerns after she initially started going everywhere with the team and [playing], I said ‘Erin, nobody is saying anything inappropriate, are they? There are no sexual references?’” Kathleen recalls. “And she said, ‘No, coach wouldn’t accept it. He wouldn’t tolerate it.’ For a mother, that was [comforting].”
DiMeglio knows that the coach has her back and that her teammates will follow suit. There has been a lot of interest in male sports about how an out gay player might be incorporated into a team. With a coach who shows as much leadership as DiMeglio’s it’s easy to imagine that a gay player would do just fine in an organization that has his back.
DiMeglio’s coach knows that not everyone understands what she’s doing on the team. He reads comments and figures those things are other people’s problems, not his or his team’s. DiMeglio’s mother has dealt with some comments as well.
“I was in Starbucks,” says Kathleen, “and a woman stops me and says, ‘I saw you in the paper. I was so surprised your daughter is really pretty. I thought she’d be a little more dikey[sic]-looking.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll have a venti latte, please.’”
Ugh. When can we get past the point when being good at sports automatically makes you a lesbian and/or unattractive? While the ESPN story speaks about how inspiring DiMeglio is to other girls who may want to chase “impossible” dreams it does not deal with the barrier comments like this one create for those same girls. DiMeglio is pretty and has long hair she wears in a ponytail. Maybe the senior will end up as Homecoming queen. So look at her, the girl who is pretty and can play sports. Isn’t that so much better than those short haired, dykey looking girls we normally see tearing it up on the field or on the court?
When can we say good-bye to this idea that it’s not enough to be good at sports, you have to be pretty too? What about the girl who wants to play and is gay or has short hair and a more masculine appearance? Does she get less points because, well, we expect those girls to want to play with the boys, I mean she’s practically half-boy anyway isn’t she? This type of thinking does a disservice to every girl who wants to play sports and may even be a barrier to some who would like to join DiMeglio on the gridiron someday. Will everyone think I am gay if I try out for the team? Do I have to be pretty to play? How many girls, when faced with those questions, will just give up or try playing something else? How many Erin DiMeglio’s have missed out on a chance to play because of this sort of asshattery?
All that should matter is if a player, male or female, can play. If you’ve got the skills it shouldn’t matter if you are girly, “dykey-looking,” pretty, or just an average teenager. DiMeglio’s coach has figured out that the only thing that matters is on-field performance, her teammates know that’s the case, when will the rest of the world catch up?