One of our favorite things here at Bloomer Girls is when women play “men’s sports”—especially when they play “men’s sports” with men. So I was excited when I heard via Feminist Law Professors that Mary “Mo” Isom, a former goalie for Lousiana State University’s women’s soccer team (yes, this is my second post this week mentioning LSU, who woulda thunk?), intended to try out for a spot as a kicker on LSU’s football team. LSU’s football program is no joke, by the way: in 2011 they pulled a New England Patriots, going 13-0 on the season and losing only to Alabama in the national championship game.
Last Friday, The Advocate published a great report of Isom’s story. On her athletic achievements and decision to try out for the football team, The Advocate says:
“Mo,” as most people call her, was a goalkeeper for LSU’s women’s soccer team from 2008 to 2011. She holds school records in career wins (43), shutouts (30) and saves (235). But Isom says soccer is done in her life. Professional soccer opportunities are limited for women, and the Under-23 U.S. Women’s National Team, for which she has tried out twice, has not invited her to train since 2010. So Isom is reaching for a new goal — on the gridiron.
(Certainly we know opportunities in women’s soccer are limited. Although Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo and the rest of Women’s National Team played their way into our hearts in the Women’s World Cup last year, women’s soccer domestically has floundered. Indeed, Women’s Professional Soccer is not even having a season in 2012.)
Well, on Tuesday the coach of LSU’s football team, Les Miles, announced that Isom would not make the team in 2012. Miles attributed the decision both to the fact that “there’s probably about four guys on our team right now that would be ahead of anybody that tried out today, including Mo,” and to the fact that the position can be very physical. According to ESPN:
“The way we kick it off, into the corner, we count on our kicker to make some tackles,” he said. “It’s just not something I’m comfortable that she’s ready to do, and I think that’s one of those spots that you just can’t put a person that cannot tackle.”
In a sport where being 300 pounds is an asset, this is a totally fair criticism, and the reality is, she’s relatively small and might not be physically or mentally equipped to tackle. But I’m happy to see that Miles did not bring gender into the equation, since certainly there are men who are equally inequipped to tackle. And I’m also happy that he said tackling was “not something [he's] comfortable that she’s ready to do.” He’s not saying she can never tackle, he’s saying she can’t tackle right now.
Miles was also supportive of Isom’s desire to try out again next year. “I think she’s going to go back and concentrate on extra point field goals. She did not want to take that she could not make the team,” Miles said. “She said, ‘Do I got another opportunity if I get a lot better?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’”
Mo Isom the Kicker! Via MrSEC.com
A lot of credit is owed to Isom for trying to break new ground and be the first female to play for LSU’s football team; I’m sure she’s getting a ton of backlash but she seems totally undeterred. And a lot of credit is owed to Miles for being fair and supportive when discussing the story with the media. That should be a no-brainer, but in the past at least one coach has not been supportive. Katie Hnida, the first woman to score in a Division 1-A college football game, had a horrific experience as a kicker for the University of Colorado. Gary Barnett, her coach there, famously said to the media when asked if Hnida’s teammates respected her, “It’s obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible, OK? There’s no other way to say it.”
So props to Isom, props to Miles, props to LSU. We’ll certainly be following Isom’s story from now on.