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DC School Appoints Woman Football Coach, Concerned Citizens Point Out That Her Gonads Automatically Disqualify Her

March 14, 2010
Natalie Randolph coaching at H.D. Woodson

Natalie Randolph coaching at H.D. Woodson/Preston Keres-The Washington Post

The capital of the United States has seen a lot of changes lately, and I can’t describe them better than the Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak has:

We saw our first African American president move into the White House last year; same-sex couples were finally able to legally marry in D.C. last week; and today we might see the biggest shocker of them all: A woman will become the head coach of a high school football program.

Yes, folks, you read that right: a woman coaching football. On Friday, the District’s Calvin Coolidge Senior High School formally announced that it is appointing Natalie Randolph, a science teacher at the school, as its new head varsity football coach. Randolph has previous football playing and coaching experience: she had a five-year career as wide receiver for the D.C. Diva’s women’s professional football team and served as an assistant coach at H.D. Woodson High School for two years.

Though I’m not a huge football fan, this news is exciting to me for several reasons. First of all, there’s always cause for celebration when a dedicated woman shatters a glass ceiling. Second, Randolph and I share the University of Virginia as our alma mater, which of course gives me another reason to root for her. And finally, I had no idea that professional women’s football leagues existed—I have heard of club teams, but didn’t know that women’s football is apparently faring better than women’s soccer did on a professional level (though I just discovered women’s pro soccer is making a comeback). Now I hope to catch one of the D.C. Divas’ games this season.

Randolph’s appointment is making national headlines. First reports stated that she will be the only woman head football coach in the country, but now outlets such as the Washington Post are acknowledging that they overlooked Debbie Vance, who has led Lehman High’s team in New York for the past two seasons.

Online reaction to the news is, of course, mixed. Stories such as this tend to bring out the best and worst in commenters. While feminists are celebrating, sexists are crying foul. As Dvorak writes in her sharp Post column (definitely worth a read), Randolph’s appointment is news mostly because it has engendered such strong reactions from the public. Not that these reactions are really anything new, however. When people argue in favor of segregation—of the sexes or of ethnicities—the recurring themes seem to be:

Group B cannot possibly be as well qualified to do this as Group A! (Biology is typically named as the reason; factors such as lack of previous opportunity or available training and cultural attitudes are conveniently ignored.)

If Group B got the job, it can only be because Group A is trying to be politically correct! (The question of whether being “politically correct” is actually advantageous to Group A in the particular situation is rarely examined.)

Let’s take a look at some examples, shall we?

In the Post comments section, one reader says:

I know Natalie and she does know the game. Now let us give her a chance to show what she can do. This is her chance and she is well aware of that.

Which is dismissed by the next commenter with a simple:

Yeah, right.

And just in case you thought football playing and coaching experience could allow someone to “know the game,” a commenter on CNN’s article reminds us that this is a woman’s playing experience we’re talking about:

It’s tough for me to criticize this, because im sure this means a great deal to this woman. However, I don’t agree with appointing a woman to coach any of the major sports at any level. I know that sounds coarse and probably sexist, but a women can never truly relate to a mans game. Take a look at the WNBA. Those women can ball, but the talent doesn’t come close to the NBA. I know we all want to be PC all the time about everything in life, but some things should just be segregated. I wish her luck, and it’s great to see someone live out their dream, but in the end, win or lose, nobody will take this team seriously.

Right, right, men have more physical prowess than women, women’s and men’s sports teams are totally different, etc. Sure, we haven’t arrived at the day to integrate sports teams, but coaches managing teams of the opposite gender are not such a new occurrence these days. Men have coached women in all sports; even in the sports considered most “feminine,” such as gymnastics or ice skating, no one questions the authority of male coaches like Béla Károlyi and Scott Williams when they coach women, or argues that men can’t hold their own in these sports because they are on average less flexible and agile than women. And as some commenters point out, it’s not unheard of to find a woman coaching a male team now in other sports, including basketball. In Randolph’s particular case, this commenter’s argument doesn’t hold: having previously coached a male football team, she is presumably very familiar with the rules of its league, plus women’s level of physical “talent” the commenter refers to is irrelevant to a coaching position. Randolph is going to be guiding her athletes, not competing on the field with them.

On the Post site one commenter offers an insightful argument against segregation:

Every time someone thinks or says something like: “Football is a Man’s Sport” or “Piloting a fighter jet is a man’s profession” it is because of their own insecurity. There is no other explanation that holds water.

People fear change, men and women. We usually see the world as it is, and for the most part accept it and turn it into how we believe the world should be. Occasionally someone stands up and says, “No, this could be better.” This is the story behind all civil rights struggles. The resistance to this is the story behind folks thinking today that Football (or any sport or job) should be reserved for just one gender.

With coaching football there’s this sense that it’d be bad if a woman were to beat a man. Why? Because insecure people are scared that it might happen, and don’t want to risk it happening to them. And when it happens to others they take out their insecurity by laughing at the man who got beat. It’s the same way most of White America felt not so long ago, when for example they didn’t want to box with black athletes, or play baseball, football, or any other sport that might upset their misplaced sense of superiority. If white folks were so sure they could beat black athletes ALL the time, they’d have been begging black folks to enter the arena so white athletes could prove their superiority. Instead the great feats of the past all have an asterisk attached to them, if they happened to athletes protected from competition because of segregation […] The same applies if we switch from sports playing to coaching. Or if we switch from race discrimination to gender discrimination.

But for further elaboration on the “it’s just PC BS” argument, here’s another CNN commenter:

Damn, PC claims soprts now too. Guess it wont be long before the NY Giants are led out on the field by Queen Latifah. This is just silly. Some people have just watched the movie Wildcats waaaaaay too many times. But this is the new America I suppose, where there are no losers, everybody finishes first, and everyone gets a medal. R.I.P. football

Let’s suppose for a minute that Randolph is completely unqualified for this coaching position, or even just less qualified than another male applicant. What, exactly, does the school have to gain by being “PC” and selecting her just because she is a woman? They get a lot of initial positive press. But if she is unqualified and performs poorly, then all that press will backfire big-time. Would such a tactic be worth the risk?  Undoubtedly, the attention they would receive for hiring a woman crossed the hiring committee’s mind. The school has definitely encouraged the initial publicity—D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty came to the school to announce Randolph’s appointment and named March 12 “Natalie Randolph Day.” But the school also knows it will be a laughingstock if Randolph performs poorly and her gender is blamed.

For the record, what does the committee cite as their reason for selecting Randolph? A committee member tells Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon that unlike other candidates, Randolph kept the focus on the student athletes and not herself.

Her presentation went into specific details about tutorial programs and after-school mentoring, about raising GPAs and improved SAT prep classes, as well as winning football games. “She blew us away,” the search committee member said. “It wasn’t close. A couple of minutes into her presentation it was like: ‘Okay, it’s a wrap. She’s the one.’ “

Randolph maintains that attitude when talking to the press. Wilbon writes:

In my time talking to Randolph on Friday there was no sense that she cared about a social crusade, no sense of whether even other women would identify her as a feminist (not that it should matter). She said, “I know this is an important story. But making sure the kids aren’t overshadowed” is hugely important to her. “I’ve got rising seniors whose time it is to shine.

This, I think, is how it should be. Randolph’s appointment should be recognized as historic, but her own focus is on football, not on breaking down barriers just for the recognition. All in all, I wish her well and hope she leads the team to success. But even more so, I look forward to the day when glass ceilings in D.C.—in the halls of federal government or the local school system–are old news. Maybe once women and men are working together as allies on a level playing field, more press and outrage will be focused on other serious problems the nation’s capital faces in both the government and in D.C.’s famously sub-par public schools system.

Further reading:

Update: Newsy examines in this video how different TV news outlets are discussing Randolph’s story (transcript also available at the link).

Female coach stands out for the right reasons (with video; note the story of what happened when a DC school first appointed a woman football coach 25 years ago)

A female football coach? The big deal is that some people still think it’s one

Natalie Randolph to coach Coolidge High School football team

Natalie Randolph introduced as Coolidge High School football coach (with video)

Woman named high school’s head varsity football coach

2 Comments
  1. Don permalink
    March 14, 2010 5:43 pm

    I have been to a couple of Pittsburgh Passion games. The women are really, REALLY good. In my opinion, this woman deserved the job based on her professional football experience alone. I am curious if any of the male candidates played professional football or major college football. I highly doubt it. If not, I have to agree with the committee that the choice was a very easy one to make. And now that the women’s professional football league has been in existence now for a few years now I am sure this is just the beginning. There will likely be more and more women moving into the football coaching ranks. Anyway, chalk up another victory for women and equality…another glass ceiling has just been shattered.

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