Lauren Silberman’s laughable attempt at an NFL tryout: Did it really ‘set women back years?’
By Angelique Bash
Lauren Silberman’s abysmal tryout at the NFL regional combine at the Jets’ training center in New Jersey last Sunday has sparked harsh criticism. Criticism is to be expected though, considering that as the first woman to try out at an NFL regional combine, she was only able to kick twice, each travelling 19 and 13 yards. Not only that, Silberman actually had trouble placing the football on the tee; she fumbled with it for about 20 seconds before she awkwardly ran toward the ball in her attempt in a manner that was downright painful to watch. Silberman called it quits after the second attempt, saying that the poor performance was the result of an injured quad.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on who is responsible for her cringe-inducing performance.
It is every qualified woman’s nightmare, a moment like this, when a surprisingly unprepared job candidate attempts to play ball with the men, according to Filip Bondy, a writer for The New York Daily News.
“One gender barrier may have been breached on Sunday, but this anemic display did no female any great favors,” Bondy wrote.
Oddly, some, like Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, seem to think the NFL is to blame.
“NFL.com slams L Silberman tryout, w/o slamming NFL for allowing it to happen,” Florio tweeted.
Yet it appears that women are the ones doling out the harshest words for Silberman.
Mo Isom, a former Louisiana State University soccer player who has previously tried to make LSU’s football team, expressed similar feelings, adding that she was shocked at Silberman’s “lack of preparedness, training, skill and ability,” and that Silberman had set women back years.
“[Silberman’s] performance does not have to do with her gender,” said Kate Hnida, a former kicker for Colorado and New Mexico and the first woman to score a point in NCAA Division 1 football. “It has to do with her experience and her preparation,” Hnida told USA Today.
“Unfortunately, what’s going to happen now is she’s going to be looked at (as inferior) because she was female. … But she was terrible.” Hnida also said that she found it “curious” that Silberman “didn’t warm up.”
Female NFL reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala wrote a scathing article about Silberman, where she says—among other things—that what spectators saw at Silberman’s tryout “was a sideshow. A delusional, haughty, heartbreaking sideshow.”
So why are women so angry about this? To some, their anger may seem like an overreaction. Even other females in the media are speaking out against Silberman’s criticizers. In her article, Lauren Landry of Bostinno.com tells naysayers to give Silberman a break. She then cites male athletes that have done poorly in past tryouts, such as Shamarko Thomas and Vick Ballard, providing clips of their spectacular wipeouts.
“[These men] haven’t set other men back years, though,” Landry writes. “They’re also not being told they’re a ‘disgrace to all the guys who spend years practicing for a chance.’”
Landry and others who share this view have obviously missed the significance of the fact that Silberman was the first woman to try out for an NFL Regional Combine. Was Shamarko Thomas the first man to try out for the NFL? Was Vick Ballard? Of course they’re not being told they’re a disgrace to all men who spend years practicing! NFL players are all male—no one is going to use these few isolated failures to reaffirm preexisting stereotypes about the entire gender’s athletic abilities. There have been thousands of male football players, so if a few goof up or play badly, no one will take it to mean that men should not be playing the sport at all—there have been too many good players to counteract the bad ones. How many women have tried out at an NFL Regional Combine? One. How many were terrible? One.
To some, Kinkhabwala, Isom, Hnida and the countless other women who were frustrated with Silberman’s performance may seem like they are being overly harsh. Does Silberman’s blunder really matter that much? Yes, it does. Certain men and women, especially women in traditionally male-dominated fields (like Kinkhabwala, Isom and Hnida), can see the big-picture of how an incident like this can have negative long-term effects for women’s equality.
They do not see a young girl playing badly and not making a team; they see a woman who was given an opportunity to prove herself—and ultimately women as a whole— as different from the stereotype that is chained to females in sports. Silberman failed to see it this way; by not preparing and not taking it seriously, she actually made the situation worse.
Not only did she play badly, but she reaffirmed the stereotype that extends past women in sports and comes to rest on women in general. Reliance on men, being overly emotional, weak and fragile—like it or not, these are stereotypes that are still attached to women to this day, regardless of how inaccurate they may be.
Stereotypes take years and years to be dispelled, and it is very slow progress; however, every little bit helps. All the elements were in place to make this a marvelous opportunity to quicken the process of gaining more equal footing in the sport world: the tryout was for an extremely well known and respected organization, was highly publicized, and there were even numerous reporters there watching with bated breath. Yet Silberman actually strengthened negative female stereotypes.
Silberman couldn’t even manage to get the ball on the tee or figure out how many steps needed for a kickoff without relying on those around her for help. Reliance on men? Check. Countless reporters gleefully jumped on the fact that she “had tears in her eyes” and was “fighting back years, ”and made sure to include this pointless detail in their respective articles, many of which actually repeated it several times in the course of the text. Emotional female? Check. Complaining about her leg hurting and making excuses for her poor performance based off it, plus the fact that most articles included photos of her grimacing in pain during her painfully awkward kick and/or laying on the table while the trainer examined her leg, further the stereotype of women as weak and fragile. Was it wrong for Silberman, or any man or woman to do any of these things? Certainly not. They are all perfectly valid behaviors and reactions to the circumstances that they occurred in.
Yet those who already believe these negative female stereotypes will not see it that way. They will not consider that a man has just as much right and is just as likely to get nervous and fumble with a tee, or cry out in pain when kicking on an injured leg. They will see it as confirmation of their preexisting beliefs that women should get off of the football field and back in the kitchen.
It could even be seen immediately; every instance where an article reported Silberman as “fighting back tears,” during her brief interview, it is a subtle reaffirmation of this. Male athletes make mistakes all the time, sometimes so bad that they themselves may be fighting back tears. Yet when they are interviewed immediately afterward, how many reporters pettily write this fact? In general, they don’t. They are usually respectful of the athletes, and stay focused on discussing the topic at-hand.
People are always looking for evidence to support their pre-existing beliefs. More often than not, we see what we want to see. Lauren Silberman should not have been “seen.” She should have either taken it seriously and practiced more, or stopped to think about how much impact her actions would have for women everywhere, and not try out at all.