Makhaela Jenkins, the 12-year-old Ohio girl who challenged her middle school district’s ban on girls playing football, will get to take the field as a member of the school’s football team this fall after all.
The Liberty Union-Thurston District School District announced that it would rescind its ban on female participation in contact sports after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file a lawsuit on Jenkins’ behalf, CNN reported. The district decided that it did not want to spend the money it would take to defend itself against such a lawsuit.
“We have no intent of competing with the deep pockets of the ACLU in any litigation situation in order to secure a favorable judgment,” the district said in a statement. “Therefore, we will allow female participation in contact sports.”
That reasoning isn’t the most noble, which should raise concerns about whether the district’s acquiescence will turn into actual support for Jenkins when she joins the team and takes the field. She deserves the same support from coaches and teammates that her male teammates will receive, and that’s the district’s job to monitor and ensure. If it doesn’t, it could have further problems on its hands.
Fairfield County never provided a reason for its original ban, which is hardly unique. A Philadelphia youth league banned 11-year-old Caroline Pla from playing football in February because it worried for her safety and “inappropriate contact” that may occur between her and boys. A private school in Atlanta chose to ban 12-year-old Madison Baxter from football because boys had “impure thoughts” about her. Pla was eventually allowed to rejoin her team; Baxter left her school to attend one that would let her play.
There are more than 1,500 girls playing football at American high schools, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. That number has increased by 17 percent over the last four years. It makes sense to be concerned about their safety. But given what we’ve learned about concussions and brain injuries in football in recent years, high school and youth league administrators should be concerned about safety for all of their players — not just the girls.