Caroline Pla is an 11-year-old girl who happens to love the game of football. She doesn’t just like watching it, she loves playing it—and she’s good. The offensive guard has been at it since she was just five years old, and was recently named an all-star among her Junior Varsity Catholic Youth Organization league. But her short-lived career may be over since she was recently booted from her team. Why? Because Caroline Pla is a girl.
CNN reports that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which rules the Catholic Youth Organization, bans girls from playing football in its league. This came as a surprise to the junior high school student and her family, who had happily watched her play the game for years before being informed that she was no longer allowed. The position of the Archdiocese is that football is just too dangerous for girls.
Pla’s family contends this is a blatant form of discrimination. After all, by anyone’s account, the 5'3" athlete can not only can stand her ground on the field, but her skill level has a tendency to elicit fear from her opponents. And so what the Pla family is insisting upon isn’t special consideration among her male teammates, it’s equal consideration.
After repeated attempts to negotiate a rule change with the Archdiocese, Caroline Pla’s mother started a Change.org petition, pleading for an end to what’s being characterized as an “archaic and discriminatory rule.”
Citing that even the NFL has no restrictions on its players’ sex, the petition’s goal was to get 100 signatures. It has so far received over 105,000. And the Pla family is hoping for about 50,000 more. Talk-show host Ellen Degeneres and nine-year-old football phenom Samantha Gordon have also lent their public support.
But what about the Archdiocese’s contention that girls aren’t safe playing tackle football? Safety is a major concern for any child playing full-contact sports, and football is dangerous. That’s just a fact. As seen in the recently profiled documentary Head Games, children are particularly vulnerable to the head trauma that’s an inherent part of after-school athletic programs.
However, if all children face that risk, banning girls doesn’t do much to protect an otherwise all-male league. Instead, the CYO could enforce rules that would make playtime much safer for everyone, such as limiting full-contact practices, supplying on-field doctors and sidelining kids after they receive a hit to the head, even if they’re not exhibiting concussive symptoms.
As Caroline Pla told ABC, “It’s not just a safety issue for girls, it’s a safety issue for everybody.”
The good news for the football player is that there’s still a chance the CYO will change its mind. The Archdiocese, no doubt feeling the strain of some intense media scrutiny over the last two months, will release a final ruling on its “no girls allowed” mandate sometime in mid-March.
In the meantime, Philadelphia city councilman and devout Catholic Jim Kenney recently wrote a public letter to the Archdiocese, declaring that banning an 11-year-old from a football team she clearly deserves to be on is “a terrible irony.” He wrote, “Its own Mission Statement declares the Archdiocese exists to serve all our brothers and sisters in the name of justice.”
Do you think Caroline Pla’s problem is one of justice or safety? Let us know in the Comments.
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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com