On Sunday, 28 year-old Lauren Silberman became the first female to try out for the NFL when she appeared at the New York Jets training facility in New Jersey. The media turned out in droves to cover her every move. A former soccer player trying to make the transition to NFL kicker, she struggled to place the ball on the tee, and her first kick went a mere 19 yards; the second one only 13. After meeting with a trainer and conferring with officials on the field, she walked off without completing her five field goal attempts or final kickoff attempt due to an apparent quadriceps injury.
The NFL debuted regional scouting combines back in 2011, this year 10 different cities will hold them, with the best players going to Dallas to compete. The scouting combine was instituted as a way of opening up tryouts to athletes from other athletic disciplines.
The NFL has failed in the past to garner media interest in these tryouts, leading some to question whether or not this was just a publicity stunt by either Silberman or the NFL. The NFL certainly wasted no time publicizing her tryout.
After walking back onto the field to take questions from reporters, she spoke for only 3 minutes before declaring that she was done answering questions. This led Mike Garafolo, who covers the NFL for USA Today, to declare the entire thing a sham. He wasn’t alone in his skepticism.
Whether or not this was a grand marketing scheme cooked up by the NFL to get more interest in regional combine tryouts or a genuine (albeit failed) attempt by a 28-year old with a dream of being an NFL kicker remains to be seen. What’s more interesting is what this portends for the future of women in football.
Gregg Rosenthal gushingly wrote of Silberman’s tryout on NFL.com saying, “We wish Silberman all the best at her tryout and congratulate her on making some history.”
The NFL’s support of Silberman on its website rings slightly disingenuous. Obviously, it is within the NFL’s interest to promote stories like Silberman’s as 40% of the league's fan base is female.
But the support of her rings hollow from an organization that continues to unabashedly employ accused rapists and domestic abusers — something NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has sought to address in recent years, but only because of a public outcry and possible damage to the brand.
In December of 2012 Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium where he committed suicide. This was the time, this was their chance to seriously talk about domestic violence, but instead, there was a moment of silence and little discussion. As former NFL quarterback Don McPherson told ESPN,
"We start trying to have this real complicated conversation, and in the sports world, we don't want to have that conversation ... This will become about mental illness, gun control and the pressure of the NFL, when it's men."
It’s not that the NFL is home to statistically more domestic abusers or rapists than the general population (because that can’t be proven); it is the unique position these athletes hold within society that, one would think, should compel the NFL to dole out more than just lip service and weak punishments.
What Lauren Silberman represents to the NFL is a no-risk opportunity to say to the public that it supports women, that this is a new and more inclusive NFL, even as its actions continue to show us otherwise.