This summer, players on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team inspired people around the world when they won a second consecutive World Cup championship, fighting for equal pay and speaking out against President Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and policies along the way.
As a group, they defied expectations and expanded boundaries for female soccer players, on and off the pitch. Now, USWNT star Carli Lloyd is doing the same thing on a different playing field.
Last week, the two-time World Cup Champion, 2015 and 2016 FIFA Player of the Year, and noted Philadelphia Eagles fan successfully kicked a 55-yard field goal at an Eagles practice. The feat was captured on video, and quickly went viral.
Since then, ESPN reports that multiple NFL teams have reached out to Lloyd. One even invited her to participate in a preseason game, but she declined because she’s playing in a game with the USWNT on the same day. However, she’s taking the possibility seriously.
“I am having discussions with my husband and (trainer) about the reality of playing in the NFL,” Lloyd told Fox Sports. “They both feel that I could do it and should consider it. So I’m seriously considering it, as it’s a challenge.”
Some have dismissed this as a publicity stunt, or some sort of sideshow distraction. NFL wide receiver Keenan Allen has dismissed her chances of ever making a roster, tweeting that if one of Lloyd’s kicks were ever to get blocked and she suddenly were playing defense, it would look like “the stampede scene in the lion king (sic) movie.”
But critics sell Lloyd short. And, as her opponents of the past two decades know all too well, selling Carli Lloyd short is a fool’s errand.
First of all, Lloyd is not going to do anything unless she’s fully prepared for it. So, while she is considering the NFL an option, she’s not thinking about this season. Instead, she’s going to put in the work, see if she is able to adjust her technique to fit the rules that placekickers in the NFL must follow, and decide if this is a realistic path to pursue. If she still feels confident, she is going to try to make it happen for the 2020 season, not the 2019 season, which begins in less than two weeks.
“If she’s going to do this, she’ll do it — she’ll train in the offseason, she’ll get herself ready so that she just doesn’t do it for the sake of doing it,” her trainer, James Galanis, told ESPN. “If she’s going to do it, she’s going to do it so that she can be a success.”
She is, after all, a professional who takes her reputation incredibly seriously.
Secondly, Lloyd would not be the first female to be a placekicker in a male-dominated football game. Women have served as placekickers in football games on the high school, collegiate, and semi-professional levels. Not surprisingly, many of these women excelled at soccer, too.
In 1997, Liz Heaston was the first woman to play and score in a college football game, when she kicked two extra points for Willamette University. She played in only two games, although she did have an extended career as a soccer player for Willamette.
In 2003, Tonya Butler — a standout placekicker in high school who also played soccer in college — became the first woman to score a field goal in a college football game, when she played for the University of West Alabama Tigers, a Division II school in the NCAA. That same year, University of New Mexico’s Katie Hnida became the first woman to play in a Division I-A bowl, when she attempted an extra point. In 2018, placekicker Becca Longo became the first woman to receive a scholarship out of high school to play for a Division II NCAA football team.
Yes, those examples all come from lower levels of the sport. But they also involved athletes who are not nearly as skilled as Lloyd. She’s not a high school soccer star; she’s a two-time world champion phenom. So, it makes sense that she would have a chance to break through at a more advanced level.
And really, that’s the crux of it: Lloyd’s elite athleticism and championship experience set her apart from the field. Yes, NFL kickers are under an immense amount of scrutiny, but Lloyd has participated in shoot-outs in the World Cup, so she’s proven her mental strength. Yes, Lloyd would need to change her technique in order to follow NFL guidelines, but she has the work ethic, self discipline, and access to training to do just that. And sure, when a kick breaks down and all the huge men come running towards her, she’s not the most likely candidate to make a tackle. But kickers never are. That’s not why they’re on the roster. Lloyd plays a physical sport and isn’t afraid of contact, and in the NFL, at least she would be wearing pads and a helmet.
Ultimately, there are plenty of reasons to question whether Lloyd should play in the NFL, because there are plenty of reasons to question whether anyone of any gender should play in the NFL given the dangers it presents. It’s okay to feel a bit uncomfortable about a woman suiting up in an NFL game, and potentially being tackled by a bunch of men. And it’s reasonable to feel a bit skeptical about whether anything will ever come from this discussion — after all, Lloyd is still a soccer player, and might not find it worth her time to pursue this.
But Lloyd knows that if she does, she won’t be just kicking for herself; she’ll be representing women everywhere who are trying to break through barriers and crack glass ceilings. She’ll be kicking to help us all open our minds and reassess the limitations we put on women. As we know from her soccer career, that is not a responsibility she takes lightly. There’s no reason to expect this would be any different.
“I don’t want to go in there blindly,” Lloyd told NBCSports Philadelphia. “I want to actually attempt to do it. But I know that I definitely could do it, because anything I set my mind to do, I can do it. And I actually do kick balls for a living.”