You have to move quickly when reporting about the historic possibility of a woman playing in a National Football League game, because, well, things are escalating quickly.
It all began as a bit of fun last Thursday when Carli Lloyd, one of the greatest women’s soccer players ever to don a pair of cleats, was invited to hang out with the Philadelphia Eagles at training camp.
Lloyd was relaxed enough about the whole thing that she took Preston Galanis, the sports-mad 13-year-old son of her long-time training guru James Galanis, along with her. They were warmly welcomed by the Eagles, kicked some field goals, grabbed food afterwards and chatted how it had been a fun, once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity.
But by the time Lloyd emailed me late Monday night, the United States women’s national team star was “seriously considering” attempting to become perhaps sports’ most important equal rights pioneer by chasing a career in the NFL.
“This has all been so wild,” Lloyd wrote. “Can’t believe how big this has become.”
It blew up rapidly, thanks to the virality of a social media video of Lloyd nailing a 55-yarder on the Eagles field, a kick that intrigued not only NFL fans but also several of its teams.
“I am having discussions with my husband and James about the reality of playing in the NFL,” Lloyd added. “They both feel that I could do it and should consider it. So I’m seriously considering it, as it’s a challenge (and) I would probably enjoy it.”
Earlier on Monday, I had an extensive conversation with Galanis, the New Jersey-based soccer coaching expert who Lloyd largely credits with guiding her extraordinary career, one that has seen her score the winning goal in two Olympic gold medal games and produce an incredible hat trick in the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final.
"@CarliLloyd is the real deal. ... The Bears, they need to do something. The Bears need a kicker, that's the only weak spot they have on their team. Call up Carli." — @criscarter80 pic.twitter.com/uOTiyOewOU— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) August 21, 2019
Galanis revealed that while several NFL teams had been in touch (he had concrete knowledge of three approaches), the most recent of those, just hours earlier, had come with the most dramatic development yet.
The unnamed team, he said, had offered to add Lloyd to the game-day roster for Thursday’s final preseason exhibition and allow her the chance to kick. Understandably, he wouldn’t say which team, and it was impossible to narrow it down – all 32 teams play Thursday night.
So too, does the U.S. women’s national team, against Portugal, which meant the idea was an immediate non-starter – for now.
“Today she got another call from another NFL team,” Galanis said on Monday. “The one that called today, I don’t want to say who it is, was willing to put her on the roster for their next (game). They were willing to put her on the roster.”
Galanis continued: “She was told (she could) play on Thursday, the NFL game, but she is playing Thursday with the national team, so that was the conflict.”
It is likely that Lloyd would have turned down the chance in any case, due to the limited amount of preparation time. However, the prospect of becoming a true pioneer for sporting gender equality has serious appeal.
“We are thinking about what it would do to the sport itself, every sport at every level,” Galanis said. “She would be the first female that’s really playing with males, and what would it do to the whole equality (issue).
“We are definitely thinking about it. Knowing Carli, this is why it is enticing for her because it is a challenge. That’s what Carli thrives on, it is the next thing she can conquer. That’s why we have had half a dozen conversations about it in less than a week.”
Yes, Lloyd took more steps for her kick with the Eagles than would be possible in an NFL game, but she also sailed it through the uprights without any football training whatsoever. Male kickers have been offered tryouts on the basis of far less compelling evidence.
And, if football’s gender divide is ever to be crossed, could there be anyone better than an athlete who has already performed at the highest level, and dealt with the accompanying scrutiny? Yet she also knows that if she were to try her luck in pro football, and was underprepared and ineffective, it could set the sports equality movement back years.
Hi @CarliLloyd, I was wondering if I could have a recorded conversation with you about being an American Legend, American champion, and now an incredible ambassador #ForTheBrand as well. Cheers. #BigBall #TrailBlazing #LetsGo pic.twitter.com/dN64CR5guD— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) August 22, 2019
There’s a list of women who have played football from the high school to semi-professional levels, almost all as kickers. But the NFL is a considerably higher barrier, played in an unforgiving spotlight.
“I think Carli is perfectly made out for a job like that,” Galanis added. “She loves the pressure. She’s got one of the hardest kicks in the world when it comes to women. She is great at long range balls, she displayed that by scoring a goal from just past the halfway line in a World Cup final, and she is definitely in tune with the mechanics. She would be an ideal candidate.”
There is a whole lot else that would need to be sorted out. While Lloyd is as pure a striker of a soccer ball as there is in the women’s game, she would need extensive training to adapt those skills to the gridiron. Preparing herself for the possibility of the kind of ferocious contact permissible in the NFL would be a vital part of the equation. Would she specialize in kickoffs, field goals, or both?
They are all valid questions, but they all have answers – we just don’t know what they are yet. What we do know is that the possibility of a woman kicking in the NFL suddenly, remarkably, feels a whole lot closer.