Girls in football: How one girl tackled gender stereotypes

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Girls in football: How one girl tackled gender stereotypes

Cho shares that her two years on Lowell's football team has been life-changing.

Cho shares that her two years on Lowell's football team has been life-changing.

Annie Ye

Cho shares that her two years on Lowell's football team has been life-changing.

Annie Ye

Annie Ye

Cho shares that her two years on Lowell's football team has been life-changing.

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Senior Young Cho remembers being tackled by a player twice her weight, height, and size out on the football field. “It was kind of a blur,” Cho said, recalling the game. The moment startled Cho, but being tackled was nothing unexpected for the veteran player. What frustrated Cho was what happened after the game, when the player approached her and apologized. Cho felt that she was being talked down to, and saw the apology as condescending and gender-specific. “I kind of understand where he was coming from, but to me it felt like he was mocking me in a sense. He would never say it to a guy, but just because I was a girl, he was sorry,” Cho said.

Young is aware of the stereotype that girls aren’t capable of playing football, which is seen as a hyper-masculine and male-dominated sport. There hasn’t traditionally been girls on Lowell’s football team, so when Cho says that she’s on the team, it comes as a surprise for many people.

Girls playing tackle football is far from the norm, but the male-dominated team has changed drastically in the past few years, especially at Lowell, where Cho, one of three girls that has been on Lowell’s football team in the school’s history, has found her community.

Cho never thought of joining football and had no prior experience playing the sport. However, after hearing that Lowell’s football team might be disqualified if there weren’t enough players, she decided to join the team during her junior year. Cho spent three years in varsity tackle football, a sport that has been instrumental in helping her transition into Lowell. She feels that joining football has been one of the most important decisions she’s made in her high school career. 

Cho transferred to Lowell from George Washington High School in her sophomore year. She remembers her first year at Lowell being extremely difficult, as she was unable to find anyone who she really bonded with. “Sophomore year was really lonely for me because everyone kinda had already made friends from freshman year, and I was just there kinda there trying to fit in,” Cho said. Joining football introduced Cho to many new friends and helped her find a community of people she could rely on.

Despite how close Cho is now with other members on the football team, she recalls how challenging it was initially to befriend other male members on the team. “It was really weird at first, and hard to connect or have a bond with the team,” Cho said. Since she was one of only two girls playing on the team in both 2018 and 2019, it took some time for her male teammates to adapt to having female members on the football team. After overcoming this initial challenge, Cho began to form strong friendships with other players, even hanging out with them outside of school. “They don’t care that we’re girls. They don’t make gender define our relationship in the team,” Cho said. 

Although Cho was eventually able to bond with her team, she worried that she was holding the team back. During practice sessions, Cho noticed that her team was doing easier training drills and dialed back the intensity when she was practicing with them. As a result, she didn’t feel as athletically capable as her male teammates. She recalls feeling a surge of adrenaline before each game because she was anxious that she would hinder the team’s performance. However, after football season ended last semester, Cho felt that she was truly a member of the team. “I was contributing,” she said. “I felt this pride.” 

Photo courtesy of Young Cho
During the 2018-2019 football season, Cho and Susan Wong ’19 were the only girls on the football team.

Having girls play on boys tackle football teams is becoming a new norm, as Cho has also seen girls playing on other high school teams. She hopes to see this become a continuing tradition, and wants other girls at Lowell to experience the sport she has come to love. “I think it’s kind of a part of football now, to have a girl on the team,” she said. 

Junior Mimi Hernandez recently joined the team in the fall of 2019, and Cho is happy to see another girl on the team now that she’s graduating. She thinks the male players might take some time to get comfortable with Hernandez being on the team, but Cho is certain Hernandez will find the same community she did, a community that Cho says taught her valuable life lessons and made her a better person.

Though Cho doesn’t plan to pursue football in college, she says that she has already taken what she has learned from football, both on and off the field, and applied it to her own life. She says joining the sport has made her a much braver person. “I feel like because I’ve done this, like I’ve challenged gender stereotypes, I can do anything really,” Cho said. “I’m ready to face the challenges of the real world, in college and adult life.” The coaches and players have been a big source of stability and comfort in Cho’s life, and they are one of the main reasons she continued to participate on the team. “It just felt like after years of just not knowing where I belonged, I felt like I belonged there,” Cho said.

 

Feb. 4 at 2:50 p.m. correction: A previous version of this story stated that Young Cho joined football in her sophomore year. She actually joined the team in her junior year.