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The Army is Not the NFL

soldiers-football

Jessie Jane Duff, a retired Marine gunny, argues that women should not be in the infantry since they’re not in the National Football League.

TIME (“So When Are Women Joining the NFL?“):

Should the National Football League allow women on the playing field? After all, they can kick and carry a ball, and professional football is one industry in which women are sorely under-represented, to say the least.

It’s not that likely to happen, is it?

The reality is Americans would be horrified to see a 220-pound strong safety drive over a female wide receiver running toward the goal line. There’s simply too great a disparity in body mass and strength between NFL players and women, and the physical demands are too great.

Amazingly, what is common sense on the football field has now been completely abandoned on the battlefield.

There are 32 NFL teams, each of whom have 53 roster spots–58 if you count the practice squad. That’s 1856 players. They represent something like 7 standard deviations from the norm. Which is to say, it’s a really selective group.

To be sure, the infantry are a tough bunch. But we need tens of thousands of them.  So, there are probably some number of women who can cut the mustard.

The elite units, the Rangers and Marine Recon and the like, have higher standards still. There are likely damned few women who can meet the grueling physical demands; after all, not many men can, either. Even so, the odds are better than securing one of the 64 or so strong safety spots in the NFL.

Duff goes on:

As a woman and a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, I know first-hand how difficult combat field operations are.

I carried in excess of 100 pounds of gear over difficult terrain for 10-15 mile marches throughout my 20-year career. This was done only with an M-16 rifle or pistol, not with the additional ammunition or heavier weapons our ground units carry. The fatigue was extreme and it was difficult to imagine how an infantryman overcame the difficulty of field movement for weeks or months at a time.

Under current policy, women in the Marine Corps are held to a less-rigorous physical standard due to the obvious physical differences. It’s a physiological fact that women have less upper body strength compared to men—yet the physical demands of combat won’t change.

A rather significant chunk of the male population couldn’t do it, either. No doubt, a greater percentage of men than women have the physical makeup to do it. But it doesn’t really matter what the general distribution of talent among the sexes is since we select infantrymen at the individual level. The key, then, is setting meaningful standards and demanding that soldiers and marines meet them before being assigned duties they can’t carry out. As individuals.

Currently, women have higher rates of discharge for medical disability that prevents them from finishing their enlistment, or re-enlistment. Stress and muscular deterioration in women comes on faster and harder due to the heavy gear and physical duress in the field environment.

Muscle atrophy, hip displacement, and arthritis in knees and joints are common ailments. Spinal compression occurs from long periods of heavy combat loads.

This is the hard reality of how extended field time and intense physical standards take their toll. Women’s bodies simply aren’t designed for the fatigue of field operations with heavy field gear and weapons on less muscular body frames. (For an example, read this eye-opening article by Captain Katie Petronio, who details the long-term physical damage she endured supporting Marine Corps infantry as a combat engineer).

This is a much more compelling argument. But, surely, there’s a more useful screening mechanism available than sex? There has to be some sort of neuromuscular screening available.

Sure, a small number of women will meet the requirements and complete training. How will combat units adjust for these statistical outliers? What is reasonable accommodation when it comes to showering or relieving oneself?

The same way units deployed to the field manage these things now?

Even our civilian society allows for non-compliance when an accommodation requires unreasonable demands upon the employer. (The elephant in the room in the question of sexual abuse, which is already a seriously and heavily-documented problem in the services; it’s hard to imagine how this new policy won’t exacerbate that problem.)

Surely, we’re not going to use the fact that some men commit crimes as an argument against the presence of women? The answer to sexual abuse is a strong leadership climate and severe punishment of offenders, not segregation of the sexes.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ironic that Duff used the NFL as a reason to not allow women in combat. My gut reaction to the rule change was that I’d have no more problem with women in combat than I would with women in the NFL, assuming the women in question are physically capable.

    On a less serious note, though, while Duff’s mind was recoiling at the thought of seeing “a 220-pound strong safety drive over a female wide receiver running toward the goal line”, mine shuddered at the thought of a 220-pound woman tough enough to play strong safety.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  2. john personna says:

    I would imagine that in the short term the numbers (applicants) would not change much, and in the long term it will be robots and drones.

    (Relatedly, I’m a skeptic about AI in my lifetime, but I expect it long term, which will make a weird world.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. bk says:

    This is as stupid as Boykin essentially saying that the terrorists will win if men and women soldiers have to pee in front of each other.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  4. john personna says:

    To continue the diversion, DARPA unveils 1.8-gigapixel drone camera, can target hostiles at 20,000 feet. “The camera can also stream around 1 million terabytes of video, which is around 5,000 hours of HD footage per day.”

    I would have really thought that number, “1 million terabytes” to be impossible, science fiction.

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  5. Geek, Esq. says:

    People don’t have a sense of just how elite the athletes are at the professional level. Look at what happened when the Celtics’ human victory cigar Brian Scalabrine took on the very best basketball players in the Boston area who don’t play for the Celtics. He utterly destroyed them.

    http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/01/22/toucher-richs-scallenge-no-challenge-for-brian-scalabrine/

    Sick of hearing that the average Joe could beat him out on the hardwood, Brian Scalabrine was on a mission.

    And given the results of last week’s “Scallenge,” it was mission accomplished for the “White Mamba.”

    Scalabrine, who retired over the summer after a very serviceable 11-year NBA career, took on four of Boston’s best ballers in 98.5 The Sports Hub’s 1-on-1 “Scallenge,” put on by morning hosts Toucher & Rich.

    Listeners sent in their try-out videos, showing off their skills and talking some trash towards Scal, but it turns out even Boston’s best was no match for Scalabrine.

    He said before the “Scallenge” it would be no challenge, and Scalabrine did not disappoint on that proclamation.

    Scalabrine — who spent the last few seasons of his career seen as the “human victory cigar” — easily defeated all four of his opponents, throwing down monstrous jams and sinking smooth jumpers as he beat them all by a combined score of 44-6.

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  6. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    To continue the diversion, DARPA unveils 1.8-gigapixel drone camera, can target hostiles at 20,000 feet. “The camera can also stream around 1 million terabytes of video, which is around 5,000 hours of HD footage per day.”

    And this is why we need to allow civilians to have AR-15s, so they can defend themselves against these weapons from space…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  7. Just Me says:

    Isn’t this mostly just a rehash of the other discussion?

    Will say what I said there.

    The way war has changed means that pretty much no longer is a front line and rear echelon. Everyone can find themselves in the thick of battle.

    It doesn’t make sense to prohibit women from serving in combat roles.

    So allowing them to serve makes sense, however they shouldn’t lower the standards required to serve in that capacity. This may mean the vast majority of women washout of the training, but I would rather see this than lowering combat service standards. A lot of men wash out of these units too.

    I do think if they are going to open these fields to women, they should design equipment that is meant for a woman’s body. Body armor, back packs, and other tools should be designed so that they fit women properly.

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  8. legion says:

    Gunny Duff is an idiot. The main reason women aren’t in the NFL is the same reason _I’m_ not in the NFL – neither of us spent our entire childhoods playing competitive football. No matter how fit you are, unless you’ve spent the last few years playing NCAA Div-I football, you’re not real likely to get picked up by a pro team. And if you weren’t a standout on your HS varsity team, you probably won’t even get a walk-on in college. There aren’t women in the NFL _right now_ because there weren’t a lot of women encouraged (or even allowed) to play Pop Warner football _20 years ago_.

    But you know what? There _are_ women playing lower-lever competitive and, in some areas collegiate, football _right now_. And as those women mature, and as more women are encouraged, more will show up to the games. In 5 or 10 years, we could very well see women competing for NFL teams, and all because we have finally allowed then to _try_.

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  9. Mark Ivey says:

    A rather BIG chunk of the male population is not fit enough to enter the Army these days, so..

    And what about Selective Service registering at 18 for females? Not to sound like a male a**hole, but….

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  10. Jack says:

    This may come as a shock to most of you, but I actually agree with the majority of the comments and the thrust of James’ article. As a retired Air Force veteran, there were no AF jobs that I was aware of that could not be performed by women. I’m not as familiar with Army/Navy/Marines jobs, but I think they would be hard pressed to show there is any job that a “qualified” person regardless of sex could not perform. The key here is “qualified”. Unfortunatley, the military insists on dual standards or norming. These standards vary depending on sex and even on age. The AF had one weight standard for men and one for women and a different standard for under 30 and over 30. Exercise repititions and distance run times were also varied depending on age and sex. I never understood how a “standard” could vary so much given diferrent variables. Given an objective “standard”, all applicants for a job speciality should be considered regardless of sex. The questions of unit cohesion, shower/toilet facilities, and sexual harassment are just noise to cover for an unwanted paradigm shift without a clutch.

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  11. Jack says:

    @Mark Ivey: Mark, the USSC decided in Rostker v. Goldberg that women were excluded from a Selective Service requirement because “The existence of the [women in] combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress’ decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them.” Once there is no combat restriction, then there also should be no Selective Service restriction.

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  12. stonetools says:

    Apparently, the military is about moving a ball up and down afield. Here I am, thinking that it was about killing people and blowing things up.
    This is only a debate if you define “combat” as ” front-line infantry, tank, and artillery forces” . The objections don’t make sense if you define combat to include ” aviator” and “sailor.” If you are a bombardier or serving on a submarine, a woman can kill people or blow things up just as well as any man.
    Even in the infantry, women are assigned these things called M-16s , which I’m told are superbly designed to kill people at a distance. Even a 220 pound man built like a linebacker won’t have much chance against a woman armed with one of those.

    Then there are the women soldiers of the Tamil Tigers:

    I remember the first time I saw a female combat soldier. It was in a town called Arasadithivu, on the island of Sri Lanka. I’d taken a canoe across a wide lagoon and into territory controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or L.T.T.E., a guerrilla group that was fighting the Sri Lankan government. When I got to the far shore of the lagoon, I found my way to a military camp run entirely by women. The Tigers, as they were known, were extraordinarily fierce. A few weeks before I got there, the women had gone into a nearby village and, using machetes, hacked its inhabitants to death. The Tiger ladies were famous for their suicide bombings. (One such Tiger assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, in 1991.) They were fit and strong and humorless. “It’s difficult to say how many people I’ve killed,” a Tiger named Seetha, age twenty-two, told me. What I remember most from that trip are the tiny vials of cyanide that Seetha and every other Tiger wore around their necks, like pieces of jewelry. Capture at the hands of the Sri Lankan government often meant torture, so the Tigers weren’t taking the risk.

    Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/01/women-who-fight.html#ixzz2JTxZ6n9s

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. wr says:

    If war is so hard on a human body, instead of trying to protect one gender we should stop sending troops to fight in foreign countries for no reason other than the masturbation fantasies of a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals with visions of the utopia that will come once the world is remade in their image.

    Here’s a start — next time a president manufactures evidence to support his invasion of a country that had not attacked him, let’s impeach him, try him and jail him for treason and mass murder.

    That might cut down on politicians’ desire to hump Bill Kristol’s leg… and save a lot of lives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    James, you’re being consistently rational on this.

    If no women qualify for Recon then no women qualify. Problem solved. If very few women qualify then the issue of medical discharges will be a very minor factor.

    I wonder if studies have been done on PTSD in women? I have a sneaking suspicion they may outperform men there.

    As for football, I think we should consider that objection next time we fight a war that involves slamming into 325 pound guys and then taking a five minute commercial break.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  15. Sandman says:

    @legion:
    I’m all for women competing with and against men, as long as they are held to the same standards, but your example is dead wrong. The physical differences are just too great.
    While a female athlete would be much better in a sport or activity if they started as child, they could never reach the level of a male who did the same. If that were the case, women would be competing against men in basketball, soccer and about any sport in the Olympics.
    It’s not even close.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  16. JFogerty says:

    The primary reason the Army is not the NFL is that the former participates in WAR while the latter is a GAME. In war, you want as many able bodies as possible. The fact that there are women who are even willing to go to war puts them ahead of most men.

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  17. KariQ says:

    On the other hand, the “women aren’t in the NFL” argument would work very well to explain why there will never be a woman SEAL.

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  18. Just Me says:

    While a female athlete would be much better in a sport or activity if they started as child, they could never reach the level of a male who did the same.

    I remember reading a study a few years ago that indicated elite level female athletes were beaten by junior level elite male athletes.

    I think one need only look at elite level track and field. My daughter was a jumper in high school and she had a very competitive jump among the girls and would even be better than some of the boys, but the best male jumpers always beat the best female ones. I can’t think of a single year or a single event where the winning male athlete had a shorter distance or higher time than the female in a similar event (best male high jumper almost always jumped at least a half a foot to foot higher than the best female jumper).

    But being elite isn’t necessarily what the army is recruiting for and there are going to be some women who can meet the standard, although my guess is it will be a small number, but if they meet it, they meet it and should be given the opportunity.

    My concern is that the military will start saying “well only 2% of women are qualifying, so let’s ask the women to do a little less, so we can get that number up higher.”

    I am also willing to bet that interest in combat by women isn’t going to be super high.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. Franklin says:

    I thought I should mention in one of these threads that in endurance running, there is apparently a crossover point where women become faster than men. Specifically, well into the ultramarathon distances: 90km (or ~56miles for all you metrically disabled readers). Here’s the original study that showed that: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9044230, while here are some possible reasons why: http://faculty.washington.edu/crowther/Misc/RBC/gender.shtml.

    So my point here is: No, the standards shouldn’t be different, and yes, men and women are generally different. But the standards should be appropriate for the job. And if the job involves significant endurance, it may turn out that elite women may actually be more suited than elite men. Obviously endurance running is different than some tasks that an infantryman might do, for example carrying heavy equipment at a walking pace. But it’s just not a given that men are better equipped to do all these jobs.

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  20. John H says:

    The image that the “two hundred and twenty pound strong safety” quip created for me was of the safety trying to run over some well trained woman with an M4. I’m pretty sure I know which way the Vegas spread would fall on that one. I’ll take the woman and give the points.

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  21. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds:

    As for football, I think we should consider that objection next time we fight a war that involves slamming into 325 pound guys and then taking a five minute commercial break.

    Of course you made roughly the same point as me, but in an entertaining fashion.

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  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    hip displacement, and arthritis in knees and joints are common ailments. Spinal compression occurs from long periods of heavy combat loads.

    I am afflicted with all of these to some extent or another. I guess that means men shouldn’t be carpenters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  23. wr says:

    @John H: Actually, in his Senate hearing Wayne Lapierre came out in favor of arming all football players just in case a 220 pound tackle tried to stop them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. Sandman says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    Oversimplify much?

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  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sandman: Stupid much?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. Russell says:

    The question isn’t “can the best women [athlete/warfighter] out perform the best man,” the question is “can a woman out perform the established minimum requirements?”

    The clear difference for professional athletes is that there are no objective established minimum requirements for these jobs. You just have to be better than the last person cut from the team. To make the comparison to military training valid admission to a combat MOS would be by process of competion between individuals, not against objective standards.

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  27. legion says:

    @Sandman: My example is less then optimal, but not for the reason you suggest. I don’t know of any studies that have ever been done to support the point you seem to take for granted, about female athletes _never_ being able to compete with males at the higest levels, but as @Just Me notes,

    But being elite isn’t necessarily what the army is recruiting for and there are going to be some women who can meet the standard, although my guess is it will be a small number, but if they meet it, they meet it and should be given the opportunity.

    Football is a competition, with specific rules and limitations. If you’re only allowed 11 people on the field, those are going to be the _best_ 11 people you can afford. There are lots of guys who play football, but are never quite good enough to get picked up by a pro squad – maybe women fall into that category too, maybe not. But to be effective in combat, you have to (we all seem to keep hitting this point) meet certain standards, not “be one of the 11 best people in your state”.

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  28. grumpy realist says:

    My feeling is that if you’re doing any work in the Army and are at the same risk of being blown up, then you’re “in combat.”

    All this huffing and puffing about the need of soldiers to lug 220 lbs of equipment over the sands is irrelevant. Maybe if the technology developers couldn’t assume that the person using their equipment was able to lug that much, they’d develop lighter equipment.

    (This is why my roommate in college argued that women end up being fantastic engineers. Men, when they push something, expect it to move. Women have to be more devious and figure out how to apply leverage.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  29. Unsympathetic says:

    The problem is that the military standards for women were lowered. If the standards are purely performance-based [eg, if you want to be a Marine you have to hit a certain time in the mile with full gear] then there’s no issue with women in the military – because they must perform or they’re out.

    However, some genius thought at some point that it was a good idea to dumb down the standards. If that’s removed for all MOS, then there should be no issue with women in the military.

    Yes, there’s more than zero pregnancies on deployment – but that would happen even if women were just serving as MP’s on base or whatever. However, the ratio is important to note the actual significance. What’s the number in 2012 of pregnancies among deployed females divided by the total number of overseas US armed forces?

    As for other issues.. yes, there’s long-term physical issues, but if women want to subject themselves to those, I’d say go for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sandman:

    Oversimplify much?

    To expand a little on my snarky reply, OF COURSE I OVER SIMPLIFIED. She said (basically) “I can’t do this. This is what happens to some women when they do this. Ergo, it applies to all women.”

    Well, I am a man. My fighting weight is app. 155#’s. I framed for years. I hung 100+ lb sheets of drywall for years. Often by myself. I now have severe difficulties with arthritis in both hands and one shoulder. I have severe difficulties with bursitis in both elbows and both shoulders. I have severe difficulties with tendonitis in both elbows. I am in constant pain in both knees and my right hip is questionable (not diagnosed). And none of that even mentions the surgeries I have been through.

    By her logic, all men are incapable of carpentry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  31. Just Me says:

    My feeling is that if you’re doing any work in the Army and are at the same risk of being blown up, then you’re “in combat.”

    I agree that the lines are blurred to the point that “combat” isn’t so clear anymore.

    However, just because everyone shares some risk, there are some jobs that are more difficult than others. Being an MP is a tough job, but it isn’t comparable to artillery.

    My husband was in the Navy and outside of perhaps the SEALS and some other special forces like roles, there probably isn’t a job in the Navy that women couldn’t do. But I think the dumbest thing the military could do is to say “Well we opened the SEALS up to women and 99% of them are washing out, so let’s lower the standard so more women can be SEALS”

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  32. Dazedandconfused says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I think her comments on breaking down faster than the men around her were over weeks bear consideration. She’s done it, after all. I remember reading about the testosterone they were feeding Lance was to “speed recovery time” very clearly. It seems plausible, anyway.

    That said, I don’t think her one example enough to bar all women from attempting it again.

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  33. superdestroyer says:

    Why compare women to NFL athletes. How many women play college football? Other than the once in a decade kicker, none. HOw many girls play high school football. Once again, other than the occasional kicker every girl playing high school football becomes a national story.

    If you want to see the physical differences compare male and female track results from the olympics. Both men and women athletes have been training for years, yet the women champions usually would not have qualified in the men’s events

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  34. legion says:

    @superdestroyer: Don’t ask us – ask the Marine that was interviewed in the article. You did read the article you’re commenting on, didn’t you?

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  35. Mikey says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: A lot of men would be incapable of soldiering, too. I knew a soldier who had to get a double knee replacement at age 50, and plenty of guys have some level of service connected disability, especially after two long wars.

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  36. Just Me says:

    If you want to see the physical differences compare male and female track results from the olympics. Both men and women athletes have been training for years, yet the women champions usually would not have qualified in the men’s events

    I already said this and I think it is a good comparison.

    However, the army isn’t likely setting its standards to the most elite level a man can perform at. The standards are probably a little below that. However the women seeking to enter those combat roles would be at the elite level for the women.

    Kind of like my daughter and her high school track team. She won a lot of events, and while her distances never beat the winning male athletes, her distances still out did a lot of the male competitors. She wouldn’t be able to beat all the boys, but she could beat some of them.

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