Not Jackie Robinson, Not Even Shannon Faukner: Lauren Silberman Flunks The Traiblazer Test

"Okay, now I kick this funny-shaped brown thingee where, again?"

“Okay, now I kick this funny-shaped brown thingee where, again?”

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

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

18 thoughts on “Not Jackie Robinson, Not Even Shannon Faukner: Lauren Silberman Flunks The Traiblazer Test

  1. I cannot believe you through in Obama at the end. What a cheap way to end your article. If we are talking about people who trailblaze and make a difference…. we usually want the difference to be a good one! might as well put Obama on the same level as this pathetic kicker cause neither one can get the job done in their pathetic attempt. You should be ashamed of yourself for putting in your line for Obama.

    • I don’t understand your complaint. Obama’s re-election establishes the minimal level of success necessary for him to qualify as making the barriers to future minority Presidents less rather than greater. Yes, I happen to think he was woefully prepared for the office, and is more of a Pumpsie Green than a Jackie Robinson, but he hasn’t fallen flat on his face, and rightly or not, a majority of the country seems to think he’s doing a swell job. What’s your beef?

      • I dont know if they think he is doing a swell job, I think that the Republicans stands on abortion and gay rights turned a lot of peoiple off who may have voted for them.

        • The guy was re-elected by about 1/3 of the eligible voters of this country. No mandate there, for sure. On the other hand, the nearly 1/3 of voters who sat on their hands and did nothing have no one but themselves to blame, if they don’t like the job Obama is doing. I voted at least, so if I feel like complaining sometimes, I feel I’m entitled.

  2. This was simply a publicity stunt. Kudos to the sports media for giving it the bare minimum notice it deserved. The MSM of course is a different story.
    The ‘man bites dog’ aspect was just too delicious for them to ignore, I expect, so they treated it as a trailblazing episode. They just can’t help themselves, ( “Is your window cleaner killing you? Tune in at 11:00!”)
    I would look for a true trailblazer to come from professional soccer, where the athlete has already proven that they are serious. Or perhaps one of those amazing fast-pitch softball pitchers will be making fools of the hitters in baseball soon; I’ve seen them do it in exhibitions.

    • I’ve heard tell of those exhibitions. But, that raises a question in my mind that maybe Jack or another of the baseball mavens in the EA readership can answer. Namely, softball pitchers pitch underhand, however fast, however well. Baseball players don’t. Do the rules in MLB prohibit underhand pitching? Or do MLB pitchers just go with overhand because, for most of them, anyway, there’s no advantage in underhand? Inquiring minds want to know.

      • There is no rule against pitching underhanded, and there used to be a lot of under-handed pitchers, back in the twenties and before. In fact, Ray Chapman, the only player killed by a pitched ball, was beaned by a pitch thrown underhand. It is a more natural throwing motion than overhand and easier on the arm. The big issue is control (as Ray could tell you), and the fact that balls thrown that way tend to rise: high pitches in the strike zone are easier to hit, and umpires won’t call high pitches strikes as often as low pitches.

        Many have suggested that a good softball pitcher could be effective at the MLB level. Remember, though, that the distance to the plate is greater in hardball, so those fast pitches will not be as fast, and perhaps not fast enough.

        No reason why a female pitcher shouldn’t be able to master a knuckleball, though.

        • Those pros who have faced softball pitchers often comment on the movement of the ball flummoxing them. Of course that is with a much larger softball, and the mound being closer,…so we shall see.
          Some current sidewinders (or ‘submariners’) are basically throwing underhand. Dennis Eckersley was pretty good at it.

          • Eck was a sidearmer. True submariners are rare—Eldon Auker was famous in the 40 and 50’s. Kent Tekulve and Dan Quizenberry were true submarine specialists. But even Ted Abernathy, often cited as the breed, was a sidearmer who tilted so far over that the pitch came from down under ueven though he wasn’t technically throwing underhand.

            The distance to the plate in women’s fast pitch is 43 feet, as opposed to 60 feet, 6 inches in hardball. That’s almost 50% longer—a big, big difference, both in terms of the reaction time for the batter and how fast the pitch is going to be when it arrives.

            • Chad Bradford is perhaps a better, more recent example than Eck. The plate distance issue is daunting. Perhaps we never will see a female pitching pro; it seems like there should already be one somewhere in the minors, or at least at the college or high school level, who is a serious player. Still, having seen them pitch, I think it’s just a matter of time. It’s amazing how quickly baseball can get over it’s hidebound traditions when real talent is involved.

        • Wow, thanks Jack, I did not know that about the pitch that killed Chapman.

          My nit-pick with you here is about pitches that “rise.” OK: Underhand pitches are often released at a point lower to the ground than where they are caught (or hit). That kind of “rise,” I accept. But, unless I need to re-take “baseball physics,” only a pitch caught in one wicked, up-drafting gust of wind between the mound and the plate is going to truly rise. One pitch might not fall as far as another, but neither “rises.”

          There WILL be a female player in MLB, and very possibly, during our lifetimes. I think I commented on this before. She’ll be a pitcher, or a speedster with a great glove (and play 1B or 3B), and/or a most excellent singles hitter. I would not completely rule out a catcher. My Dad was a catcher. So was my wife – and she knew better than to let ME pitch to her.

  3. I was royally pissed when Shannon Faulkner pulled that stunt. If she had been serious she would have shown up in shape and ready to go. But instead she shows up overweight and out of shape. They shouldnt have let her drop out they should have ran her fat ass all day and night until she was in shape.

    • I felt similarly, Bill. When you fight for an opportunity, you better be ready to kill yourself to do it justice.
      I think in like terms regarding Sarah Palin. So you’re not ready for the big time—you’re there anyway. Get ready, so the grunt work, and deserve it.

  4. I would like to know if Ms. Silberman did this intentionally as a stunt, or did she truly think that “It can’t be that hard”. I can see her thinking that since she plays soccer, that she would be able to just walk in and kick the ball just fine. That level of arrogance is not unheard of and has embarrassed many a person trying to switch sports (look at Michael Jordan as a minor league ballplayer). Just because football isn’t considered the most sophisticated sport and its players aren’t considered the most sophisticated people doesn’t mean that its easy or that they aren’t very, very good at it.

    • You may be on to something. Witness American Idol auditions. People seem to believe that they have immense talent that has simply never chosen to display itself, ever in their life, but now, now, with the cameras on and having expressed intense desire, they will sing beautifully. This will happen in spite of no effort ever having been made to learn how to sing. Its really quite pathetic and delusional.
      One wonders if Ms. Silberman at least received a ‘participation trophy’ from the NFL. I daresay she would have been tossed out sooner, but for the national media presence.

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