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.
Leagues play American football unless otherwise noted.
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 NFL: 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 publicity stunt.
The world governing body for American football associations, the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), held the first ever Women's World Cup in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2010. Six nations participated in the inaugural event: Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and the United States. The United States won the gold by beating Canada, 66-0. The 2013 World Championship, in Finland, was held from 30 June 2013 to 7 July 2013. The USA won gold again, beating Sweden 84-0 and Germany 107-7 in order to make it to the gold medal match with Canada, whom they beat 64-0.