It's no secret that historically, American football is seen by many as a man's game for male fans. However, new data shows that women are gaining momentum as football's fastest growing market both off and on the field.
Not only are women watching football more than before, but they are also playing in greater numbers, too.
So, in order to get an idea of what it takes to earn a stake in the growing league, I tried out for the DC Divas, an all-women's full-contact football team based in Washington, D.C.
DC Divas 2018 Player Tryouts
The tryout, which was held on a grass field in Capitol Heights, Maryland, was similar to the NFL Scouting Combine, where college football players showcase their physical and mental abilities in hopes of getting drafted to a team.
Players were required to do the following drills and tests:
- Standing broad jump
- Cone drills (including the L-Drill)
- Ladder drills
- 40 Yard Dash
- Speed turn and catch drill
- Tug of war
As someone who has never played football a day in her life (and is all-around athletically challenged), it was comforting to know that you didn't need prior football experience to tryout.
That said, the coaches made it very clear that while most of the drills were timed tests, they were looking for players to do their best no matter how challenging it got. "It's not about how you finish. It's about how you go about the drill in the first place," Dameka "Meek" Reese, the team's linebacker coach shouted to us rookies at one point. "If you slip, if you fall, how do you fight to get back up to finish?."
"If you slip, if you fall, how do you fight to get back up to finish?"
Women and football
All-women football teams, like the Divas, have found a way to run their own route into the multi-billion, male-dominated industry.
At the fan level, women are the fastest-growing audience for the National Football League, according to the NFL. Female viewership across the NFL was more than double the male viewership between 2009 and 2013, according to a report by Ohio University on the rise of women and football.
The report also found that almost half of the 2015 Superbowl's total viewers were female, which topped the number of women who watched the Academy Awards or the Grammys that same year.
At the player level, the number of girls who play football is up more than 161 percent from what it was during the 1999 to 2000 game season.
The NFL says it is making an effort to hire more women in the form of executives, coaches and referees, but when it comes down to actually playing the sport, women are still an afterthought.
Farm leagues and pay gaps
One of the advantages men have over the women in this field is what's called a farm league, which grants a player earlier opportunities to develop in their sport, such as with football.
"You have pee-wee league, you have middle school, you have high school, you have college," Coach Meek told Circa. "We’re trying to really condense those many years that men have in order to get to the professional level."
While there are opportunities for girls to play football in high school and college, the number of schools and opportunities where girls can play are very limited compared to the boys.
In addition to the lack of opportunities for women, there's also the issue of pay.
“It’s about having an opportunity like everyone should to participate in something they love. My dad did it, my brother did it. Why can’t I?”
"No one’s on salary in women’s football yet," Rich Daniel, General Manager of the DC Divas, told Circa. "So, when you see the salaries in men’s football and then you see ours, it's non-existent."
The girls on the Divas team have opportunities to make money off of the tickets they sell, but even as back-to-back champions, the pay gap is still very wide.
“We’re not as strong as the men, but we have the physical capabilities to do what we put our minds to," one of the vets said toward the end of tryouts. “I don’t play the gender roles card. I want to play ball. So, I’m an athlete.”
So, did I make it? Well, I got a callback, but decided to keep my day job.