Women in football: An explosion of opportunity – Toronto Flag Football League
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Women in football: An explosion of opportunity

It’s no secret that 2020 sucked. From a global pandemic to an insurrection to murder hornets, it’s safe to say the year had its challenges.

Football was not exempt from the Worst Year Ever. The CFL cancelled its season, and the NFL endured a scheduling nightmare that saw teams shutter their facilities and move games due to positive COVID tests.

But through it all, one aspect of football saw an overdue explosion in growth. In 2020, the sport took major steps towards its goal of gender equality.

The face of the movement is Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller. On Nov. 28, Fuller became the first woman to participate in a college football “Power 5” game, when she kicked off the second half of the Commodores’ contest against Missouri.

Two weeks later, Fuller made some more history. In Vanderbilt’s rivalry game against Tennessee, she drilled two extra points, making her the first woman to score in “Power 5” history.

While Fuller grabbed the headlines in the college ranks, plenty of women were contributing at the NFL level too.

A Week 3 matchup between the Washington Football Team and the Cleveland Browns saw a historic gathering of three trailblazing women. For the first time in league history, a game was played between two teams with female coaches, as well as being officiated by a woman. Sarah Thomas, the referee, became the first permanent NFL official in 2015 and will become the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl when she takes the field in Tampa on Feb. 7. Jennifer King, who was Washington’s full-year coaching intern and has recently been promoted to offensive assistant, became the first Black female coach in 2018 in a similar role with Carolina. Cleveland’s Callie Brownson became the first woman to coach an NFL position group in 2017.

King went on to make more history in Washington’s first-round playoff matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There, she met Tampa coaches Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar for a pregame photo-op that featured the first female coaches to oppose each other in a playoff game.

The impact of the game’s growing initiative in gender diversity hasn’t been restricted to on-field personnel either.

Staying with the Washington Football Team’s culture shift, 2020 saw the arrival of Julie Donaldson to the team’s broadcast booth. She is the first woman to occupy a game in-game out broadcasting job in league history.

Much of this growth is owed to the hard work of the Women’s Careers in Football Forum. According to their website, 97 opportunities in football were earned by participants in the forum since 2017.

The CFL too is working to foster the inclusion of women in the game. They broke the officiating glass ceiling in 2019, when Emily Clarke and Georgina Paull refereed a game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Toronto Argonauts are also at the cutting edge of inclusion. This November, they held the Toronto Argonauts Women’s Football Showcase, where a panel of female football leaders and representatives from the Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Football Association (OWIFA) discussed the state of the game.

Still, there is no shortage of room for improvement. Over 300 coaches entered the NFL playoffs this season. Only six are women.

The fact remains that women are still grossly underrepresented in the sport. Despite over half of women polled in this 2020 study identifying as either “avid” or “casual” fans of the NFL, they don’t see themselves represented in any capacity on most gamedays.

The good news is that the mindset has changed. Football has recognized its gender diversity shortcomings and is working, however slowly, to fix them. Simply put, there has never been a better time for women to get involved with football.

The Toronto Flag Football League is committed to continuing this growth. We launched the first season of our girls league in the spring of 2016, and have since seen it grow from 17 participants to over 60. Girls are welcome to play in any of our leagues, whether that be the co-ed league, girls league, or both!

Registration for TFFL’s 2021 Spring season is open. All are welcome!