Women's gridiron football, more commonly known as women's American football, women's Canadian football, or simply women's football, is a form of gridiron football (American or Canadian) played by women. Most leagues play by the same rules as their male counterparts, with one exception: women's leagues use a slightly smaller football. Women primarily play on a semi-professional or amateur level in the United States. Very few high schools or colleges offer the sport solely for women and girls; however, on occasion, it is permissible for a female player to join the otherwise male team.
The first evidence of women playing organized football was in 1926. It was then that an NFL team called the Frankford Yellow Jackets (the predecessors to the modern Philadelphia Eagles) employed a women's team for halftime entertainment.The following is a list of notable female American football players who have either played for predominantly men's American football teams at the youth, high school, college, or semi-professional levels, played in the Legends Football League, or played in traditional women's tackle football leagues such as the Women's Football Alliance, Independent Women's Football League, and Women's Spring Football League.
Notable women who presently play or have previously played American football are included on this list.
Of the women who have seen action in men's college and pro football, almost all have been in special teams positions that are protected from physical contact. The first professional player was a placekick holder (a traditionally trivial position usually occupied by a person who holds another position on the team), while the best known female college football players were all placekickers, with all having primarily played women's soccer prior to converting.
Patricia Palinkas is on record as being the first female professional football player, having played for the Orlando Panthers of the Atlantic Coast Football League in 1970. Palinkas was a placekick holder for her placekicker husband.
On October 18, 1997, Liz Heaston became the first woman to play and score in a college football game, kicking two extra points. Prior to this game, female athletes at Duke and Louisville had come close to playing in a game but did not. In 2001, Ashley Martin became the second female athlete to score in a college football game, this time in the NCAA.
In 2003, Katie Hnida became the first female athlete to score in a Division I-A bowl game; she later became the second professional player when she signed with the Fort Wayne FireHawks. Julie Harshbarger, a placekicker for numerous Chicago-based Continental Indoor Football League teams, became the first female player to win a most valuable player award in an otherwise all-male league in 2014; by kicking five field goals that season, she earned the title of special teams player of the year, leading all kickers in the league in scoring. Jennifer Welter became the first female skill position player at the male professional level by playing as a running back in the Texas Revolution in 2014.
Brittanee Jacobs is the first female football coach at the collegiate level. She helped coach safeties at Central Methodist University during the 2012 season. Welter would become the first female coach at the professional level when she took a preseason position with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015; a year later, Kathryn Smith, who had spent several years as a front office assistant, took a quality control coaching position with the Buffalo Bills, making her the first permanent female coach in National Football League history.
To date, only one woman has ever attempted to join the NFLpublicity stunt.
: Lauren Silberman, who received a tryout to a scouting combine in 2013. Silberman had never played the game before and botched her tryout, leading observers to assume the tryout was a
Pop Warner estimates that girls make up 1 percent of its 250,000 registered players. That's 2,500 girls ages 5 to 14 playing tackle football in an organization that makes up 8 to 10 percent of total youth football participation. Applied to the estimated 2.5 million youth football players, that number grows to 25,000 girls playing tackle football at the youth level. Female only youth leagues are growing in popularity but are still far outnumbered by the local youth programs that are male dominated.
- Jessica Ciarrocchi: Starting Running Back, Linebacker and Free Safety. Played 4 years of Varsity Level Youth Tackle Football for the Marple Jr. Tigers of the Bert Bell Memorial Football League. First girl ever to start at Running Back and Linebacker/Free Safety in a Varsity Bert Bell Championship Game (110lb Division). Scored over 60 Touchdowns in her career and led her team in Rushing and Tackles every season played. Also started at Quarterback as well.
- Sarah Crispin: Starting Middle Linebacker, Ridley Middle School, Pennsylvania. Started playing tackle football at the age of 7. U.S. national football team hopeful.
- Mandy Davis: Starting running back and middle linebacker, Pleasant Grove Middle School, Alabama. Started playing in 7th grade for the first time.
- Sam Gordon: Running back, Salt Lake City. Her play in a youth football league led to her becoming the first female football player featured on a Wheaties box.
- Angelica Richards: Starting offensive tackle, Austin Road Middle School, Georgia. Started playing 7th grade for the first time.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there more than 1,900 girls who played high school football in 2016. For years, the number of high schools with football teams and the number of high school children playing football grew at a steady rate. But recently, participation leveled off and even began to go down, except for one group: high school girls.
- Beth Bates, a Williamsburg, Kentucky High school junior in 1982, became the first woman in Kentucky to score in a high school football game, kicking five extra points.
- Alexandria Buchanan, first female to complete a high school touchdown pass in Hawaii.
- Savana Melton (Varsity Kicker-Sophomore,Junior,and Senior): North Little Rock, Arkansas, High School 7A - 2nd highest scorer 2015 (56 points); 2016 (89 points). 42 yard Field Goal at Conway High School 2016. First girl to play and score in a 7A State Championship game 2016. First female to be selected to All Arkansas Preps and ArkansasVarsity football teams 2016. Arkansas Activities Association Record Book: Consecutive Extra Points Career (leader with 68) and Miscellaneous - first female to play and score in a state championship game 2016. Leading scorer freshman through junior seasons in varsity soccer and selected to All Arkansas Preps for soccer 2016. All Conference in Soccer and Track. http://www.hudl.com/profile/5561854/savana-melton http://members.ahsaa.org/public/userfiles/Media/recordbook1617.pdf
- Heather Darrow: In 1986, Darrow became the first female athlete in the state of Tennessee to score a point in a high school football game.
- Eleanor Jones: Former Kicker for the Scappoose Indians in Oregon. Kicked for the Varsity team while simultaneously playing for the school's Women's Varsity Soccer team.
- Samantha "Sami" Grisafe: First girl in California to play quarterback in a Varsity Division I High School Football game in 2000 at Redlands High School. Named captain of Redland's High School's Freshman Football Team in 1999. Inducted into the Redlands High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014 for her accomplishments in Varsity Football, Softball, and Volleyball.
- Brooke Liebsch: Started playing on all boys tackle teams in 2009, and became Liberty (Missouri) North High School's first female quarterback in 2015. Recently lettered in football her Sophomore year. First female to make it to the U.S. National Development Games in Arlington Texas, July 2016. March 2017 at the age of 16 registered with the WFA Women's Football Alliance. 2017 Rookie starting quarterback for the KC Titans Women's team. First year playing she took her team to the first round of the playoffs. She also understands her role and knows that a lot of little girls look up to her for what she does, and she consciously takes time to encourage & motivate them. This year will be her second year attending the KC Chiefs Play 60 Event for the Girl Scouts.
- Wanda Ballou: First girl in Ohio to play boy's JV & Varsity High School football 1989-1991. Wanda was starting wide receiver and Safety. At 5'7 and 130lbs, she was fast with great hand skills, a force to be reckoned with.
- Erin DiMeglio: First female quarterback to see play in Florida high school football history
- Theresa Dion: First female to play on a boys high school varsity team in the U.S. when she played for Immaculate High School in Key West, in 1972, as a placekicker.
- Anastasia Hooker: First female in Indian River County, Florida to score a point or points in a High School Football game. During the Sharks JV team's October 9, 2014 game, Anastasia, No. 9, kicked a 24-yard field goal on her first attempt. She also was the 1st to score a varsity point by converting a PAT. The 17-year-old junior was named "Offensive Player of the Year" as a Freshman on the school's Varsity soccer team and plays travel soccer for the Brevard Soccer Alliance U-18 State Cup team.
- Trevion Borders: First female to play freshman football for Klein Oak high School in Houston, Texas.
- Tami Maida: Junior varsity quarterback at Philomath High School in Philomath, Oregon. In 1981, she became the first known quarterback to also become homecoming princess, and her story was the basis of the CBS movie Quarterback Princess starring Helen Hunt as Maida.
- Holley Mangold: Played high school football as an offensive lineman; younger sister of NFL offensive lineman Nick Mangold. She also competed as a weightlifter in the 2012 Summer Olympics
- Holly Neher: Gained notoriety in 2017 for being the first female in the state of Flordia to throw a touchdown in a high school game, a feat she accomplished on her first pass play and third total play. The touchdown was a 42-yarder. After starting the second game, Neher became the first girl to start a high school varsity football game at quarterback in the history of Broward County, Florida. She is also believed to be the first female to do so in the entire state of Florida and possibly in the United States.
- Maya Ochoa: Freshman wide receiver and safety at Creekview High School in Carrollton, Texas.
- Evonnie Ramos: first Sophomore female to play JV football as a Left guard and special teams in Fort Stockton, Texas (Pecos County) 2015.
- Luverne "Toad" Wise: Kicker for the Atmore (now Escambia County) Alabama High School Blue Devils in 1939 and 1940, first female to score in an American football game.
- Jessica "Lil' Bulldog" Schultz: Fifteen year old, 4'11", female sophomore played fullback, outside linebacker, and special teams, with the male varsity team for Jellico, TN, Blue Devils. She scored the first rushing touchdown by a female in 1998. Jellico v. Williamsburg.
- Chris'tal Smith earned varisty playing time as both a running back and defensive player at Wolfson High School as a freshman in 2017.
- Bree Smith-Cheeks, defensive line player in Maryland.
- Mackenzie Trotter: Sophomore safety at Wade Hampton Highschool in Greenville, South Carolina.
- Becca Longo, kicker who became the first woman to earn a college football scholarship to an NCAA school at the Division II level or higher and signed a letter of intent with Adams State University.
- Anna Zerilli: First female freshman kicker to score at the Varsity level in American History. Started kicking for Manchester-Essex High School, MA in 2015 and is currently playing for them. First female football player in North Shore and Cape Ann History.
- Grace Milstein: Started playing Tackle Football on an all boys team in 6th grade and continued to play until her Senior year in high school. She was one of the first girls to play in California as both Receiver and Free Safety.
Almost all of the women who have played on predominantly male college and professional football teams have done so by playing either the placekicker or holder positions. Both positions are usually protected from the full contact present in American football.
In predominantly women's leagues
- Mana Alison: Wide receiver, Carolina Phoenix (2014-present), California Quake (2012-2013). Played for Team Sweden at the 2013 IFAF Women's World Championship. Designer and founder of Breaking Boundaries Apparel.
- Lakatriona "Bernice" Brunson: Lineman, linebacker, fullback, Miami Fury. First female high school head football coach in the state of Florida. Star of the reality TV show South Beach Tow.
- Allison Cahill: Quarterback, Boston Renegades (WFA) (2003, 2005-present). First quarterback in history to amass 100 career victories playing exclusively in women's football leagues.
- Linda Caruso: Linebacker, Mass Mutiny (2002-2007). Contestant on ABC's The Benefactor.
- Carole Duffy: Running back, Pittsburgh Powderkegs (1969-1971). Third of four women inducted into the American Football Association Hall of Fame.
- Sami Grisafe: Quarterback, Chicago Force (2007-present). 2013 WFA National Champion and game MVP. Two-time gold medalist for Team USA in the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women's World Championship. Musician and songwriter.
- Rae Hodge: Kicker/wide receiver, Pittsburgh Powderkegs (1971). One of the first two women inducted into the American Football Association Hall of Fame.
- Linda Jefferson: Running back, Toledo Troopers (1972-1979). One of only four women inducted into the American Football Association Hall of Fame. Named the 1975 Athlete of the Year by womenSports, the first magazine dedicated exclusively to covering women in sports. Seven-time national champion (WPFL, NWFL); posted five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons rushing.
- Anita Marks: Quarterback, Miami Fury (2000-2002), Florida Stingrays (2003). Television and radio sports reporter/commentator.
- Yekaterina Pashkevich: Running back, New Hampshire Freedom (2002-2006) and Boston Rampage (2007). A charter member of Russia's first women's national hockey team. Olympian for Russian Federation women's hockey team (2002, 2006, 2014).
- Barbara Patton: Linebacker, Los Angeles Dandelions (1973-1975). Mother of NFL linebacker Marvcus Patton.
- Natalie Randolph: Wide receiver, DC Divas (2004-2008). Became third ever female head coach a boys' high school football team in 2010. Recipient of the Women of Distinction Award from the American Association of University Women in 2011.
- Sarah Schkeeper: Offensive guard, New York Sharks, Richmond Black Widows (2009-present). Gold medalist for Team USA 2013 IFAF Women's World Championship. Founder of Richmond Black Widows football club.
- Jenny Schmidt: Quarterback, Kansas City Tribe. 2009 IWFL World Champion. Gold medalist for Team USA 2010 IFAF Women's World Championship.
- Josie Smith-Malave: Defensive line, New York Sharks (2001-2002). Contestant on Top Chef Season 2 and Season 10.
- Lei'D Tapa: Linebacker, Carolina Queens (2007-2009). Professional wrestler and model.
- Donna Wilkinson: Running back/tight end, D.C. Divas (2001-present), Los Angeles Amazons (2000). In 2003, became first woman in modern era to rush for over 1,000 yards in an eight-game regular season. Two-time gold medalist for Team USA (2010, 2013).
- Alissa Wykes: Running back, Philadelphia Liberty Belles. NWFA MVP in 2001. Came out as a lesbian in December/January 2002 edition of Sports Illustrated for Women.
- Whitney Zelee: Running back, Boston Militia/Renegades (2011-present). In 2013, eclipsed the 2,000-yard benchmark and set a new record of 2,128 rushing yards over an eight-game season, earning her conference MVP honors. Holds WFA record for most touchdowns in one game (8 vs D.C. Divas on May 18, 2013). Two-time WFA National Champion and game MVP (2011, 2014).
- Erin Andrews: FOX Sports reporter for NFL
- Jane Chastain: First woman to provide color commentary for a National Football League game
- Robin Roberts: ESPN commentator and reporter
- Beth Mowins: ESPN college football and NFL play-by-play announcer
- Gayle Sierens: First woman to call play-by-play for a National Football League game
- Pam Ward: First woman to call play-by-play for a nationally televised college football game
Front office staff
On a per capita basis, women have somewhat greater representation in professional football's ownership than in other fields; this is in part due to widows and daughters of deceased owners receiving NFL teams as part of an inheritance.
- Sarah Thomas: First permanent game official in professional football (UFL 2009, NFL 2015)
- Shannon Eastin: First woman to officiate an NFL game (2012)
As an additional supplement to the list, noteworthy fictional appearances of women in football are provided.
- Shannon Beiste, head football coach fictional McKinley High School: played by Dot-Marie Jones on the television series Glee
- Bella Dawson, quarterback fictional West Silverado Middle School Bulldogs: played by Brec Bassinger in the television series Bella and the Bulldogs
- Lucy Draper, placekicker fictional Texas State Armadillos: played by Kathy Ireland in the 1991 film Necessary Roughness
- Dizzy Flores, quarterback in SciFi movie Starship Troopers: played by Dina Meyer
- Molly McGrath, head football coach fictional Prescott High School Wildcats: played by Goldie Hawn in the 1986 film Wildcats
- Christina Pagniacci, owner fictional Miami Sharks: played by Cameron Diaz in the 1999 film Any Given Sunday
- Doris Sherman, owner of fictional Orlando Breakers: played by Katherine Helmond on the television series Coach.
- Becky "Icebox" O'Shea, main character in comedy film "Little Giants": played by Shawna Waldron
- Tami Maida, high school quarterback, played by Helen Hunt in the movie "Quarterback Princess" (1983)
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