My Internal Lynn Swann

I grew up in the 70s and 80s. Girls were expected to be not-athletic. Sports were a boy thing. I went along with the expectation. I did not play organized sports. Being picked for a team in gym class filled me with terrible dread. Often I was picked last, especially for kickball. If there was an outfield, I hung back in it. If there was a lot of action  around the ball, I stayed away. If a ball came straight at me, I froze in panic. I hated sports.

Except that I didn't.

On my own time, with my best friend, Tim, I was fast, agile and tough. I ran, wrestled, and loved to play football. The Steelers' Lynn Swann was my idol, because like me, he studied ballet and played football, proving dramatically to the world what I understood in my body. We are more powerful when we understand that "girl things" and "boy things" are just, largely, people things.

When I was in middle school, I heard about a girl at a high school somewhere who played on the varsity football team. I briefly considered trying out for football, but it was too outlandish an idea. I also considered trying out for track. I knew I was a good sprinter. But I was too shy, and there was no one around who offered to mentor me.

I did have some female athlete role models. My friend Shelly played hockey, on a travel team I think. That was tough, and certainly not a traditional "girl thing." There were girls' basketball and volleyball, and probably softball, teams, but I never understood how those might relate to my love for the rough and tumble of football, for the brute struggle at the line and the great soaring freedom of moving down the field in time to jump up and meet the ball at the end of its arc. Plus, I resented the "girls" team aspect of them. The girls teams were, by definition, less important.

By the time I was in high school, I was enmeshed in theater and punk rock and dating college guys. Tim and I went our separate ways. I was too busy to care that there was no outlet for my contrarian athleticism. But I lost a great pleasure and a source of strength. I lost my internal Lynn Swann.

If there had been a girls football team, I wonder if I would have gone out for it. There's enough interest now that my friend Marie plays for the Cleveland Fusion, part of a women's football league with teams in several cities.

Title IX was in effect in my childhood, but its effects didn't fully reach me. I hope it reached some of my classmates. I think its longterm effect has been profound. Women athletes might still struggle to be valued on a level with men, but women athletes are visible and vibrant. My daughter, and my son for that matter, thinks of sport as one of many important facets of life. Like so many contemporary American kids, they play soccer. Z hangs back sometimes, but she can also be dogged and fierce. Then the two of them come home and analyze fashion on Project Runway. I like to think that things are better for them.

Today is Rally for Girls' Sports day sponsored by the National Women's Law Center. Read more about how sports participation has a positive influence on girls' academic success and physical and psychological health. Help your girl find and keep her internal Lynn Swann.


  1. The girls teams were, by definition, less important.

    This is so sad, but true. A friend showed me a documentary once on a college basketball team. They made it to their finals with great hardship but then their school CANCELED THE PROGRAM because the boy's team (who were no where near playoff-capable) needed more money.

    *clenched fist of rage*

    Anyhoo - it's gotten a lot better. And studies show that participation in sports as girls make women stronger, more confident, and higher-earning, ultimately.

  2. Yeah today the girls can freely enjoy all sort of the games and also the all sort of the activities like the athletics.


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