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Can Girls Play American Football?

There are no rules preventing women from playing American Football. There are several different options for females that wish to play. Tackle leagues have begun to spring up for high school and middle school along with flag football leagues. Girls also have the option of trying out for boys’ tackle teams as well. Several NAIA colleges also offer women’s football, and a handful of women have appeared in Division I games. 

I remember one girl in particular who dominated as a running back in my youth football days. While I can’t recall a female member of my high school teams, I was always inspired when I looked across the sidelines and saw a girl suited up and ready to play. 

In this article, we’ll be talking about several of the new options women have to choose from if they want to play football. We’ll also celebrate some of the trailblazers that have pushed down barriers and made appearances at the Division I level too. Will we ever see a woman take the field at the NFL level? Read on to find out.

Key Takeaways

  • Women are allowed to participate in youth and high school football across the country.
  • Participation in tackle football among girls has risen in the last ten years by as much as 500% in some states.
  • Toni Harris was the first woman to sign a letter of intent with a division program, signing with NAIA school Central Methodist University in Missouri back in 2019.

Flag Football

While women don’t compete in tackle football very often, flag football is growing in popularity. The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) offers worldwide competition for women in both tackle and flag football with tournaments held every few years. [1]

Flag football is offered by several NAIA colleges. Many of these programs are new and their financial viability is still in question, but as many as 19 universities have offered college flag football for women in the last few years. [2]

The American Flag Football League (AFFL) offers yearly tournaments for both men and women in various age brackets. Teams pay an entry fee, with first place taking home as much as $200,000. [3]

Many school districts also offer flag football for women including my former school district in distant Anchorage, Alaska. This recent development has given more teenagers the opportunity to compete with a reduced risk of serious injuries such as concussions.

Tackle Football

Like flag football, tackle football is also growing in popularity among young women. Girls-only leagues in Texas and Utah have encouraged turnout, while many other states also allow girls to play alongside boys. 

Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, and New Jersey have the highest percentages of girls participating in tackle football at the high school level with approximately 1% of girls competing every year. [4]

This may not seem like much, but it represents an increase of almost 500% in some states compared to just ten years ago.

How Close Has a Woman Gotten to the NFL?

The physical differences between men and women make it difficult for women to compete at football’s highest levels. However, several women have made appearances for Division I programs.

The first was back in 2002 when kicker Kate Hnida of New Mexico University stepped onto the field to attempt an extra point. [5]

We had to wait until 2020 when Sarah Fuller of Vanderbilt became the first woman to score in a Division I game. A soccer star, Fuller also made her appearance as a placekicker, booting an extra point against Tennessee. [6]

A year earlier in 2019, Toni Harris became the first female to sign a letter of intent to play college football. A 5’7” safety from Detroit, Harris signed with NAIA school Central Methodist University in Missouri. [7]



It will remain an uphill battle for women that want to play tackle football at the highest levels such as Division I or the NFL. But even if that’s not attainable, it’s exciting to watch the growth of both tackle and flag football options for women. Perhaps someday in the future, there will be another professional league primarily for women that love the sport and want to play for a living. 

Until then, we’ll have to enjoy the trailblazing journeys of athletes like Toni Harris and Sarah Fuller who will serve as talismans for the next generation of women that are glued to their TV every Sunday like me.


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