Philadelphia Youth League Bans 11-Year-Old Girl From Playing Football

Caroline Pla (10) with teammates

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) has banned an 11-year-old girl from participating in its youth football league, and her family says it’s because the organization told them that “football is for boys.”

Caroline Pla, according to news reports, has played football in the Archdiocese league for six years and in the CYO league for two years before officials made her aware of the rule that prevents girls from participating in the league. Neither her coaches nor her teammates were aware of the rule, and by all accounts, Pla is a standout player: she was voted to the league’s all-star team following the 2012 season. The Archdiocese bent its rule to allow her to finish this season but has not changed it to allow her to continue playing, citing safety concerns, ABC News reports:

“CYO football is a full-contact sport designated for boys,” archdiocese spokesman Ken Gavin wrote in a statement to ABC News. “There has been some perceived ambiguity in the policy regarding this point. It is currently being reviewed and will be addressed moving forward to provide complete clarity.”

That isn’t exactly a strong reason to ban Pla, who has started a petition asking for reinstatement, from playing the game. There are more than 1,500 girls playing high school football across the country, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, and the number has increased more than 17.5 percent from four years ago. Multiple women have earned chances to play football at the college level, including Katie Hnida, who became the first woman to score a point in an NCAA Division I game when she kicked an extra point for the University of New Mexico in 2003. And Sam Gordon, the 9-year-old football sensation, captured America’s attention earlier this year and ultimately ended up on a Wheaties box.

There isn’t an alternative available to Pla, who didn’t abandon a female football league to play with the boys. She’s simply playing on the only field, in the only league, available to her, and there is no evidence that she does not belong. But she isn’t alone: across sports, there are cultural and systemic barriers to female participation, and those are barriers we as a country have been tearing down in the four decades since Title IX became law. We’ve made progress, but as participation rates and funding levels (not to mention senseless rules like the one enforced by the Archdiocese) show, there is still progress to be made.

The Archdiocese’s concerns for her safety and well-being are legitimate, but they should not arise simply because Pla is a girl. It is becoming increasingly evident that football and the head injuries that can accompany it can pose serious risks to the futures of the young men and women who play it, and those injuries don’t discriminate based on gender. If the Archdiocese is truly concerned about safety, those concerns ought to cover all of its players, not just the ones who happen to be female.