In courting young sports participants, the National Football League has been careful to include girls. The reason is simple: Despite the game's macho image, the numbers indicate football appeals to females, both as fans and players.
The league claims the largest female TV fan base of any professional sport, with women accounting for nearly half of NFL viewership.
The three million eight-to-15-year-olds participating in Punt, Pass, and Kick competitions are almost evenly split between boys and girls. And in noncontact NFL Flag leagues, 30 percent of the players are girls.
There are lots of girls who could benefit from the new Junior Player Development League, says Martha Ewing of Michigan State University in East Lansing, where women compete in several tackle leagues.
"Sports have no gender," Professor Ewing says, pointing to the influx of women into ice hockey. There, females play a no-checking game, but Ewing sees no reason to remove body contact in football. "You don't need to reshape the sport for women; they'll hit," she says, advocating the elimination of any double standards: "If you think it's a good physical activity, then let everyone have a chance."
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