Call it the trailblazer’s duty. If your objective is to be a trailblazer and break through the obstacle of prejudice in an elite field, your efforts, even if not successful, had better not make the obstacle greater. The epitome of trailblazing excellence is Jackie Robinson, shattering major league baseball’s apartheid by simultaneously becoming the game’s first black player in decades, and also one of its greatest players of all time. The bottom of the barrel in the trailblazing pantheon is probably Shannon Faulkner, who waged a high-profile legal battle to become the first female cadet at the Citadel, only to enter the school physically and mentally unprepared for the challenge, resulting in an embarrassing failure and rapid withdrawal.
Lauren Silberman, the first female to try out for the National Football League made Faulkner look good.
The NFL holds regional tryouts in which serious pro football candidates can be viewed by team scouts. All that is required to participate is an entry fee, but the league makes it clear that this is not for dilettantes, noting on its website that “Applicants must meet NFL eligibility rules and be able to perform at a high skill level. The NFL reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to reject any applicant it determines to be unqualified or unfit to compete.” With great fanfare, Silberman, an MIT grad (MIT has no football team) and soccer player arranged for a tryout as a kicker. She exploited the novelty of her quest in interviews with USA TODAY Sports and the NFL Network last week, during which she plugged her business, a consulting company called Double Play that helps athletes use video games for virtual training. She made brave statements about getting “a chance to fulfill my dreams by trying out to play in the world’s most competitive football league.” Finally Silberman took the field, competing against 37 male kickers. After two pathetic kicks that went a combined 30 yards, she suffered a leg injury, and was unable to continue. Three other participants in the try-out told the media that Silberman asked multiple male kickers how to approach the ball for kickoffs.
In other words, she had no idea what the hell she was doing. Silberman created high expectations that a woman was finally ready to make a serious attempt to break the daunting gender barrier in pro football, and then not only kicked “like a girl,” but had not even made a good faith effort to do anything but.
I think this is despicable. Not her failing—no effort to break down the doors of prejudice is guaranteed success. What is despicable is her making a pretense of trying to accomplish a difficult goal when she wasn’t willing to put in the work and dedication to have a chance at achieving it. Katie Hnida, a former kicker for Colorado and New Mexico and the first female kicker to score in a Division I game, expressed her frustration at Silberman’s irresponsible breach of duty. She told USA TODAY:
“It is disappointing. I hoped she would go out and do justice for an NFL tryout, because there are lots of people who have dreamed of going to the NFL. It should be something serious. There is no way I would ever do that unless I was in the absolute best shape of my life and could really compete with these guys. “These guys are good. This is not a joke. It didn’t appear she was mentally or physically prepped for an elite-athlete tryout.”
No, she wasn’t. And somewhere there is a little girl with a love of football and a one-in-a-million talent for the game, who might have a had a real shot at being the NFL’s first female player, and whose daunting challenge was just made more difficult still because Lauren Silberman abused the role of a trailblazer to grab some cheap publicity, betraying her gender and the game.
We should be grateful that Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Sandra Day O’Connor and Barack Obama, as well as the many other courageous trailblazers who made the a fairer, stronger, more just and more diverse, had the ethical values and character the role demands.
_____________________________________Facts and Graphic: USA Today
Source: NFL Forum
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