Twelve year old Maddy Blythe from Locust Grove, Georgia was pulled from her middle school’s football team, not because her performance was lacking, but because she is a girl.
My first instinct was to lash out in something that’s got to be close to fury. Then I decided to take a step back and consider the best way to approach it, worried that I was too close to the situation.
I was very active in sports as a middle schooler, and the time I spent on the court and field was very important to my identity at that time of my life. After thinking about it for a while, I decided my initial reaction was appropriate. The team gains nothing by losing Maddy as a teammate. Not only is she holding her own as defensive tackle, she’s kicking ass. In fact, her coach welcomed her to the team with enthusiasm and fought to keep her on, but it was ultimately not his decision.
The school’s CEO called Maddy’s parents into a meeting to discuss their daughter’s future as a football player. He felt that her continuing to be a member of the football team would lead the boys to have “impure thoughts,” or that the talk in the locker room might be too much or her to handle. Additionally, it was his belief that boys and girls should not compete together or against each other, because they are created equal but different.
So, impure thoughts. The thoughts of preteen boys, pure or not, are not Maddy’s problem. She can’t control what other people think or feel about her and should not be expected to be responsible for anyone’s thoughts or actions but her own. Once again, we are finding more ways to blame young women for the way that men feel about them. Although this girl, decked out in full gear, pads and helmet, couldn’t be further from a women in a short skirt who has been drinking, the idea is still the same.
Somehow we are still finding ways to blame the victim. It is slut-shaming at its most ridiculous. Additionally, how does her playing football increase those chances? These kids spend all day together, in class, at lunch, at recess. Aren’t they just as likely to have “impure” thoughts during those days when she’s showing a little leg in those standard issue private school uniform shorts? Are they going to take it a step further and start segregating all the classes by gender? Boy’s math and girl’s math?
Then there’s locker room talk. In the school’s eyes, the problem is not the filthy things coming from the mouths of these boys, it’s that Maddy shouldn’t be hearing it. If the issue was the boys talking in a inappropriate manner, the school would take action to assure that they were punished for it. What happened to demerits and detention? Instead they are concerned about Maddy somehow being blemished or scandalized by what she hears. The truth is, anything that is inappropriate for Maddy to hear is just and equally unsuitable for her male peers.
Equal but different… haven’t I heard that somewhere? Sounds a whole lot like separate but equal, which was proven wrong a long time ago. Like most human rights, women’s right’s are a slippery slope. What seems like an isolated incident becomes a precedent for all those other girls who want to play football or do whatever else someone deems too masculine. Eventually, those girls are going to grow up and want crazy things like equal pay and a place in the business world!
But the silver lining, albeit thin, is that Maddy’s mother, a former police officer and mom of 6 (can we just take a minute to appreciate the awesomeness of that?) has started a Facebook page and plans to fight the school on their decision. You can support Maddy by visiting and liking Let Her Play. Leave her a message and let her know you are standing with her, grease paint and shoulder pads on, helmet under arm.
Written by Rachel Brandt