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In Little League play, a 13-year old girl, Mo'ne Davis, stunned the baseball world with her 70 mph fastball. Assuming that she "fills out" adequately during her adolescence, it is at least within the realm of possibility that she will develop a 90+ mph fastball with the requisite control to pitch in the majors. And if not her, perhaps another woman like her.

This situation came about because in baseball, you "play the ball, not the man." Assuming you have the required skills to handle the ball, you don't have to worry about being "overpowered" by a larger man.

Are there other sports other than baseball (or tennis, another "non-contact" sport) where there are female high schoolers (or college players) "coming up" that could plausibly play professionally against men? Or are the odds considered too long in contact sports?

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    I suspect this question is going to get into another "what's a sport?" discussion. Women already compete professionally against men in things like motor racing, snooker and chess. – Philip Kendall Jan 19 '15 at 21:29
  • @PhilipKendall: I meant to ask about TEAM sports played with a ball (not one on one) and made that change in the question.And the last paragraph narrows it further to "contact" sports, not including "motor racing, snooker, and chess." – Tom Au Jan 19 '15 at 22:42
  • It might be better if you simply list the sports you consider acceptable answers - I answered assuming the American Big 5 but of course a list could include things like Cricket and Rugby if you wanted to be more international. – Joe Jan 20 '15 at 17:48
  • It's probably not considered a sport, but I bet women curlers would compete favorably against men. – jerepierre Jan 20 '15 at 23:11
  • Melissa Mayeux, a shortstop on the French U-18 junior national team, became the first known female baseball player to be added to MLB's international registration list, which means she will be eligible to be signed by a Major League club on July 2.. see article – dgo Jul 16 '15 at 14:37
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The closest a woman has ever come to playing in a major North American sport is probably Manon Rhéaume, who was a goaltender for in the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning system. She played in an NHL exhibition game and some professional minor league games. The trend seems to be that NHL goaltenders are getting bigger, which makes a woman playing in the NHL less likely, but this might still be the most likely opportunity in North American professional sports.

The knuckleballer Eri Yoshida pitches in a Japanese (independent) minor league against men. A knuckleballer is probably the best opportunity for a woman to make it to Major League Baseball.

At the high school level, there are examples of girls winning against boys in wrestling matches. The weight classes are a huge assist at leveling the playing field there. Of course, there's not really a professional outlet there. I wonder how it would play out in boxing or MMA, although the public might not take to men fighting women.

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There is Korfball: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korfball

Mixed sport, but mainly played in the Netherlands and Belgium.

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    It is a requirement for them to have mixed teams. Why would this be an answer? – Coach-D Jan 21 '15 at 2:37
  • Men and women compete in a team sport played with a ball, that their attendance is mandatory is not that important. The flow of the game allows it to be a mixed sport. Contact is limited to (almost) none, technique is more important than physical powers. – Don_Biglia Jan 21 '15 at 14:36
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    This is not an answer. Then mixed doubles tennis would be an answer. This has nothing to do with the spirit of the question. – Coach-D Jan 21 '15 at 16:57
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The most likely team sport position (of the major professional league sports in the US, ie Hockey, Basketball, Baseball, American Football, and Soccer) for a woman to play in would be kicker in the NFL; this has come fairly close a few times, with several women playing in college football in that position. Lauren Silbermann tried out in 2013 with the New York Jets, although she had no success (as she was injured in the tryout). Several woman have played in college and semi-professional leagues, as Wikipedia notes.

Ultimately even there it will be difficult for a woman to play professionally, because the leg strength for kickoffs is critical - many statisticians believe the only repeatable success kickers have is in gaining a touchback on kickoff, with most other elements being fairly random. This would be likely the weakness for a female kickers, so even a highly accurate kicker would be weaker on kickoffs and thus have a competitive disadvantage - but who knows.

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To answer this question concerning the most popular sports in the US (Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, and Soccer) it can largely be view by size and athletic ability.

This answer assumes the average woman to be smaller than the average man and the athletic abilities to correspond. It also applies to only these 5 sports.

Of the sports listed, Basketball and Football are most reliant on size. This chart shows the average size of players from various sports.

In those two sports, women would have basically no chance because of their limited size combined with the superior athletic ability of men. Except for a possible long shot of kicker/punter as @Joe explains.

This leaves us with the other three sports:

  1. In the NHL the only position that a woman would stand a chance physically is at goaltender. @jerepierre has already touched on this.
  2. In soccer the women could match up with the average size according to the business insider article, but the men would be superior in athletic abilities such as jumping and sprinting.
  3. Women would have the best chance in the MLB as a knuckle ball or junk ball pitcher. To do this they wouldn't necessarily have to be athletic or big. They would need to perfect their craft of being a junk baller. This would also obviously lead to other issues besides talent, but as John Kruk once said, Lady, I'm not an athlete. I'm a professional baseball player.

Obviously sports that combine size and athletic ability would be an advantage to men. This encapsulates most sports. The possible niche being a sport where technique and practice can over take. A good example is pitching in baseball.


Notes:

I stated in a comment on @Coach-D's post that I played NCAA baseball and we used to scrimmage the women basketball team at our school. They had some players that were taller than our players, and they were more fundamentally sound than we were. We would regularly beat them, and beat them easily.

The thought that Mo'ne Davis could compete in the MLB with a normal skill set (by which I mean a fastball and two off-speed pitches) is absurd. Unless she developed a devastating knuckle ball she wouldn't stand a chance. This is purely physiological, females mature earlier than males and most likely we saw the best pure athlete that she will ever be. Don't get me wrong she could refine mechanics and control, but the likelihood she throws over 85 MPH ever is slim. If she were able to do that, then she would join the club of thousands of males in the minor leagues and independent leagues that can do so also.


I don't not consider baseball a sport where you play the ball and not the man, as hitting versus a pitcher that throws in the 90's vs the 70's is a significant difference. A sport that could fit into that is golf. The ball lies the same no matter whom is playing it. This leads to Annika Sorenstam who played with the men on the PGA tour and missed the cut in the Bank of America Colonial tournament. During the same year she was able to win on the LPGA tour, leading me to believe that even for a woman to make the cut on the PGA tour would be a significant accomplishment.

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Ultimate frisbee supports co-ed play up to the highest levels of sport. Even at the WFDF World Championships, there is a separate mixed division where co-ed play occurs. While ultimate is technically a non-contact sport, incidental contact occurs all the time (and is mostly not penalized). Each team does have to field the same number of women, though, so this is not a perfect example of gender equality in sports.

  • The title limits the scope to only sports played with a ball, so Ultimate Frisbee wouldn't count. – Michael Myers Apr 18 '15 at 19:44
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OK Mo'ne Davis is a horrible example. Chances are she doesn't grow at all and her fastball hits 75 mph max. Many 13 year old girls are fully grown, height-wise. I have personally been around 2 very athletic girls that were very similar to her - one as an umpire and another I personally coached. The girls at 13 are just more mature than boys of that age psychologically and developmentally. Boys hit their growing spurt around 14-15. So girls have two years in school that they might be faster or more talented in the strength/speed sports. [Actually 4 years ago one of my boys played against a 12 year old girl in football that was laying kids out. She is talented and will probably have multiple big-time college offers for 2-3 sports but you would laugh if she had football pads on now. She's 5-8 120 pounds... almost the same size as when she played football]

I want a disclaimer to my answer in that I am pretty strict what I consider a sport. Auto racing, board games, and strategy games are not sports to me. I personally feel that bowling is not a sport (but a great game) and golf is right on the lowest fringe of sport.

Do women have a chance? Well not anytime soon. They just don't have the physical attributes that will help them, unless they start altering their physical attributes. I remember my college (large D1 school) having the WNBA players stay in the dorms over the summer. I was on the basketball practice team. Was probably at the level of a DIII starter but nothing great. We would play the WNBA girls daily. My team would include 1-2 guys from practice squade and 2-3 "good" pickup players.

In their three weeks there the WNBA players never won a game. They scratched, clawed, brought out their 6-7 big, it didn't matter. They couldn't stop our first step or the power drive. Number don't lie. We won probably close to 100 games. Most of these girls were stars at big D1 programs. We didn't hold back at all (mainly because they started playing dirty in game one) but we weren't also "great" players. I believe all of the girls we played were better basketball players than us - fundamentals, shooting, tactic, positioning, whatever - but the athletic disadvantage was too much to make up.

What sport are women closest to catching men? I would think it would be the marathon. Running that distance requires using your body's existing fat reserves. Women have an advantage here. They can possibly be lean and in race shape with more fat in their body.

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    Mo'ne's 5'4'', and 110 lbs. I could imagine her growing to 5'7" or 5'8" and 140 lbs. in three or four years. Using this trajectory, 90 mph is a "stretch" but not out of the question. And even 88 mph and "good command" might get her "drafted," but perhaps not all the way to the majors.And baseball is not a contact sport like basketball. Perhaps it is more like golf, "on the lowest fringe." – Tom Au Jan 19 '15 at 22:46
  • 5'8" would be a stretch. 75 mph might be a stretch. – Coach-D Jan 19 '15 at 22:57
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    @TomAu - that is not how it works with a young girl's progress. – Coach-D Jan 19 '15 at 23:33
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    I second your women's basketball example. During the fall the baseball team would play the women's basketball team in games and easily beat them. Their coaches tried to hold us back but pure athleticism won almost every time. – diggers3 Jan 20 '15 at 0:33
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    @Joe - My point wasn't that women would catch men in the marathon. It is just that the upper tier of athletes is really closer than any other sport that I can think of (and seems to be getting closer - where ever this might plateau). Could a woman play minor league baseball with a knuckleball, maybe. Could a woman be top 50 in the world at baseball... no. – Coach-D Jan 20 '15 at 17:58

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