Ford: Still breaking new ground |

Ford: Still breaking new ground

Forty-one years after Title IX leveled the playing field and opened the door for female sports to blossom into what they are today, women are still breaking new ground. Yet in some cases, they are still battling outdated standards and ideals.

This weekend marks a couple firsts for women in sports. By now, most know about Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to win the pole for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race — and the Daytona 500, no less. It's an accomplishment I think few saw coming a decade ago.

Her recent achievement has validated her place in the racing world and taken away the novelty that accompanied her presence previously.

And over in the mixed martial arts world, possibly the only sport that is more male-driven than NASCAR, is the debut of the UFC's first female bout — and a pay-per-view headliner, no less.

Ronda Rousey (6-0), an undeniably captivating Olympian and mixed martial artist, will take on Liz Carmouche (8-2) in the main event at UFC 157, marking the arrival of women in combat sports.

I know women have been boxing and cage fighting for years but never on this kind of stage with this level of exposure.

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While Patrick, Rousey and Carmouche continue to carve out a niche for their gender in traditionally male-dominated sports and further the female influence on the sporting world, one little girl has found that there are still walls yet to be broken down.

Caroline Pla, an 11-year-old Pennsylvania girl who has been playing full-contact football since she was 5 years old, may be left on the sidelines next season because the Catholic Youth Organization league that let her play this last season is now citing an overlooked "boys only" rule that would keep her out of competition in future seasons (see story on B2).

Pla, a 5-foot, 3-inch, 110-pound offensive and defensive linemen, sees through the thin reasoning behind the re-implementation of the once-overlooked rule.

"First, they said it was a boys' sport. Then they said it was a safety issue. Then they said it was inappropriate touching. I think they are just constantly looking for excuses to not change it," Pla told the Associated Press.

The antiquated "boys only" rule reeks of the same mindset that once had "whites only" signs on bathroom doors and drinking fountains.

The church released the following statement in response to Pla's pleas to play.

"Traditionally football is a boys only sport due to its full-contact nature. Most parents and players have preferred this; some now disagree."

Most parents and players have preferred this? When was that poll taken? I imagine it's been a boys only sport since the beginning, and that rule is just now being challenged.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is now reviewing the ban with a decision expected next month after a panel of coaches, parents and doctors weigh in.

Chaput did send Pla an email in January expressing dismay for her for going to the media and was quoted in the email defending the boys only rule.

"CYO rules exist for good reason," it read.

I would like to say I was surprised the Catholic Youth Organization's stance would be so out of touch with modern times, but I'm not.

What exactly is the good reason to keep girls out of football when the gender barrier has already fallen at the prep and Pop Warner levels. According to the National Federation of State High School Association's 2011-12 High School Athletics Participation Survey, 1,604 girls played 11-player football in the fall of 2011. And let's not forget 9-year-old Samantha Gordon from Utah. The superstar running back grabbed national headlines and the cover of a Wheaties box last November with her impressive football season, gaining more than 2,000 yards rushing and scoring 35 touchdowns in a single season.

So why should Pla be denied the right to play football?

Isn't it time that people stopped looking at females as fragile beings and give them the credit they deserve as athletes — as humans. They don't need the protection of older men with outdated beliefs about the female capacity for contact deciding where and when they can play their chosen sport.

The bottom line for me is if the player can play at the caliber for which the sport and level of competition call, the gender of the participant should not matter.

The sports world is changing, growing, maturing and integrating. And in the future, maybe not mine, but hopefully my daughters', there will be men and women sharing the fields and courts of professional sports across the board.

Think I'm crazy. Maybe, but 41 years ago, did anyone envision a woman winning the pole at the premiere stock car racing event in the U.S. Or that women would be dunking in college and professional basketball games. Or that the headline fighters for Saturday night's big bout would be named Ronda and Liz.

Forty-one years ago, most thought women would never catch up to men athletically. Well, the gap is closing and closing fast.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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