Anyone who knows me moderately well knows that I love me some Friday Night Tykes. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a reality TV show based on youth football leagues in Texas and Pennsylvania. It’s packed with all the drama that comes from the combination of talented youth football players, questionable parenting and coaching and cable TV editing. I love it. While the show is understandably mostly about the boys who play and the men who coach them; occasionally, the storyline follows a young girl who dares to play with the boys or a woman who is knowledgeable and brave enough to stand on the sidelines as a coach. Last night, we got a glimpse at one of those women, but unfortunately, she was neither brave nor showed herself to be knowledgeable. On the contrary, she used very cowardly, thoughtless tactics in an effort to win a football game, and showed how women shouldn’t be coaching. Let me tell you what happened.
The San Antonio Outlaws and the Long Beach Patriots, both of the Snoop Youth Football League, met in Houston, Texas for the 2016 National Championship. Last year, the same teams met and the Outlaws took home the ultimate trophy. Needless to say, the Patriots were out for revenge. Prior to the start of the game viewers were introduced to Sabrina Vaifanua, an Assistant Coach for the Patriots, who described herself as the strength, conditioning and disciplinarian coach for the team. Immediately, my interest was piqued and (although I am a ride-or-die Outlaws fan) I was excited to see what she would bring to the game. As you can see from the video below, she initially seemed to be on track, offering tough encouragement and positive feedback for her team. Even when her team got behind at halftime, Coach Vaifanua remained determined to lead her team to a National title.
But she took that determination too far.At the beginning of the third quarter, the Outlaws led the Patriots 19 to 6. The Patriots came out blazing and scored on their first possession of the quarter. In the process; however, Myzel Miller, the star player of the Outlaws and one of the stars of the show, is injured. The injury appears that it could be game-ending. Rather than just celebrate her team’s touchdown and coach football, Vaifanua had this to say:
“If Myzel doesn’t come back in, Scooby [No. 11 who scored the touchdown] gets $50. I told you, he has to be out. If he don’t come back in, I owe you $50. Straight up. And I’m going to pay you tonight.”
Um, are we in the Saints locker room circa 2011 or at a youth football game? Much to Vaifanua’s dismay, Myzel returns. Unfortunately, his return doesn’t deter her. Vaifanua doubles down, “And that’s for anybody…get him out and I owe you 50. It’s easy. Get rich.” Oy vey, is this woman seriously putting a bounty out on a child?!
Despite her finest efforts at putting a hit out on someone’s son, the Patriots lost 31 to 19.
I have no idea how long Vaifanua has been coaching youth football, nor do I need to know, because it doesn’t take a lifetime of coaching to see that she was dead wrong. Any amount of grown woman common sense and human decency should tell her that encouraging athletes to harm one another in exchange for pay is unacceptable. It’s unsportsmanlike and déclassé. It’s also embarrassing for women. Vaifanua isn’t the first or last youth football coach to employ questionable or illegal tactics in the name of winning a football game, but she is one of the few women who get to be on national television representing women in football.
Rather than take the opportunity to rise to the occasion, teach strategy and perseverance and to show that women do have an understanding of football and an ability to coach the game; she flopped. She reduced her kids to beings motivated solely by money and herself to a coach that could only pull from illegal baiting tactics in a tight situation. For the countless men and women who say women don’t belong in locker rooms and on sidelines as coaches, Vaifanua is Exhibit A. Now that’s not to say that sexism and misogyny aren’t the core culprits for the belief that women can’t hack it in football; because they are. It is to say; however, that when given the opportunity to prove the critics wrong, we really need women to rise to the occasion and show just what we are made of. Sure we have Jen Welter and Kathryn Smith representing women in football in a mighty fine way, but until seeing women on the sidelines is no longer an anomaly; we need the ones who are there to “woman up” and behave like they understand what a privilege it is to coach.