A traditional Catholic-backed youth football league in Pennsylvania is finding itself in the midst of a maelstrom of public controversy after it barred a female player who had participated in the association’s leagues for five years. The Catholic league’s reasoning? It has always held that tackle football was too dangerous for a girl.
As reported by CNN, ABC News and a handful of other Philadelphia and national outlets, 11-year-old Caroline Pla is a devoted football fan in the Phildaelphia area. She first began playing youth football with the Philadelphia Archiocese Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) as a 5-year-old kindergartner and never looked back.
Then, suddenly the Philadelphia CYO decided to give Pla the boot, enforcing a league rule that mandated only male children, like Pla's 14-year-old brother, participate in tackle football. Pla, who now stands 5-foot-3 and 110 pounds, had been an all-star offensive guard and defensive end while playing tackle football for the prior two seasons.
"I was mad," Pla told CNN. “Just really mad that we don't get the same opportunity as boys just because we're not a boy.
"Not only am I not going to be able to play, but girls all over aren't going to be able to sign up. And I don't think that's fair."
Pla is right: The CYO policy isn’t fair. It’s sexist and discriminates against young girls. Yet, because the organization doesn’t receive public funding (CYO relies on donations and funding from an area’s supporting Archdiocese to support its programs), there really isn’t much that Pla and her family can do.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they haven’t tried. Pla’s mother, Seal Pla, started a change.org petition aimed at getting CYO to allow girls to play on its football teams. The Pla petition has received more than 100,000 signatures, yet the CYO organization has yet to budge.
That’s a huge shame both for Pla and the league according to her former coach.
"We didn't make a big deal about [her being a girl],” Pla’s former coach George Reichwein told CNN. "Anyone who went head-to-head with her ended up on the ground. After a week, [her gender] was laid to rest.
"This whole fight is for other people more than it is for her. She's such a caring, kind, well-rounded young lady who's able to put a helmet on, throw a switch and knock you on your butt."
At this point, the Pla family has exhausted all reasonable resources to try and change the rule. They have started petitions and saturated the media, even landing an appearance for Caroline on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
If anything, that media exposure appears to have hindered Pla’s chance at gaining reinstatement, which will be ruled on once and for all by the Philadelphia Archdiocese in mid-March. After she wrote a letter to the Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of the Philadelphia Diocese, Chaput responded extolling the virtues of Pla’s commitment to football, but also admonishing her willingness to work through the media to build attention around the issue.
"I admire your love of the game, Caroline, and I'm impressed by your zeal in pursuing the opportunity to play it," he wrote. "At the same time, it's important to understand that pressure is not a good way of showing respect for dedicated people who are simply fulfilling their duty to protect young people in sports."
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