[This story was published in "This Mutant Life."]
You know, if there's one thing that bothers me, it's these pressure groups that push irrational causes. Today at lunch I tried to take a walk in the park, but there was a big rally there. Protesting, would you believe it, the lack of women players in the NFL. When the drive for the ERA finally failed, you'd have thought the women's lib movement would have given up and collapsed. Nope, just broke into a bunch of splinter groups, each going after its own private goals, like the group holding this rally.
The really funny part, though, is that there once was a woman player in the NFL. Her name was Jean Marie Benoit. Ben-wah, the French pronunciation. Don't bother to look it up, they rewrote history and removed her name. There's no trace of her in the records. One more game and they couldn't have expunged her, she would have been too famous, but they got to her just in time.
I first met Jean Marie in college. It was in the fall of my junior year, and she was in several of my classes. She was a junior, too, just transferred in from some community college. She was a real good looking girl. Big, about five foot eight, 150 pounds. She was black, not real dark but definitely black. On a college campus in the early 2000's that made no difference at all socially, and I dated her several times.
Eventually we agreed to stop dating and just be friends, mostly over the physical fitness issue. She was a health nut. Jogging, health food, stuff like that. I was--in fact I still am--a junk-food junkie, and I get all my exercise jumping to conclusions.
"Paul," she would say as I stuffed my face with a burger, "how can you eat that? You should treat your body better, eat something like this broccoli yogurt. Look what it does for my body."
"On you," I replied, "a Playboy centerfold body looks good. On me it would look silly."
"That's not what I mean and you know it. Why don't you come over to the track with me and do a mile or two? It would only take five minutes."
"Well, first of all, I couldn't run two miles if my life depended on it. Second, you can't do two miles in five minutes. And third, most important, you can't do it at all today because the track is closed."
"Oh damn! How come?"
"Track team tryouts. Hey, there's how to get your exercise. Tell them you're trying out, and then you can run. Try out for the mile, that'll get you a good run."
"Only two minutes. But I guess I could sign up to try for the mile and the two mile both. Thanks for the idea, Paul. See you later." She jumped up and left.
I wasn't much of a jock, as you can easily see, but the idea of doing a mile in two minutes bothered me. I was pretty sure the record was just a little under four minutes. Then the waiter came by and I forgot about it and ordered a hot fudge sundae.
Later, of course, I remembered that conversation. Like, when Jean Marie entered a track meet that spring and broke every world's record. There was a protest about her being in too many events, but somehow it got smoothed out. The fact that the meet wasn't eligible for official records probably helped, because it meant nobody really cared very much. Our college had its first ever winning season in women's track that spring--also its last. I think the coach was looking forward to another the next year, but by that time Jean Marie had moved on.
I was working on the college paper, and I was in the gym doing an interview with the football coach. "Coach Pentland," I asked, "do you think that you can do better next fall than last year's one and eleven record?"
"Well, it can be shown that ..." His voice trailed off as a rather loud argument erupted on the other side of the gym. It was Jean Marie and the women's track coach.
"Jean Marie," the coach was saying, "you must stop this fooling around with weight-lifting. It will damage the muscles you need for track."
"Please, Miss Marten, I know what's good for me. I need this exercise as much as I need running. I know what I can lift, and I don't overdo it."
"Don't overdo it? You're lifting 600 pounds there! Next thing you know, you're going to want to be in the weight-lifting events too."
"Well, since you brought it up ..."
"Jean Marie, forget about it. I had enough trouble getting you into both running and high-jumping." The coach stomped out of the gym.
The football coach turned back to me and said, "I wonder what that was all about?"
"Oh, that's my friend Jean Marie," I replied. "She's a real fitness nut. During track season she won us just about every meet single handed, and broke a whole bunch of world's records. Unofficially, of course."
"And lifts 600 pounds? Hmmm." The coach stared at Jean Marie for a moment. "Paul, I would appreciate it if we could finish the interview a bit later. Something has just come up."
"Sure, no sweat, Coach. My deadline isn't until Tuesday."
"Thanks. I'll get back to you before then." He turned and headed across the gym toward Jean Marie. When he did get back to me a few days later, it was to tell me he'd just signed the first woman football player in the history of the college.
Now, don't tell me that a 150 pound woman can't possibly lift 600 pounds. She can't possibly run a two minute mile, or jump twenty feet in the air, either. Maybe she's some kind of mutant, or maybe that was Krypton Community College she transferred in from. Beats the heck out of me.
But I saw Jean Marie do all of those things. I watched all the home games the next fall, and I saw her take our rotten team to an undefeated season and a bowl bid. A bowl win, in fact.
I saw her jump twenty feet in the air to catch an overthrown pass and come down in the end zone for a touchdown. I saw her run seventy yards for a touchdown dragging a 300 pound defensive tackle all the way. Don't tell me it's impossible, I saw it.
She might have gone out for track again in the spring, but some sort of administrative foul-up made her ineligible. She didn't care much. The NFL draft choices were coming up, and she came to me to ask my advice. Why, I'll never know. I know as much about football as a pig does about flying.
"Paul, do you think I should try for the NFL?"
"Well, do you really want to play? Do you plan to make it a career?"
"Oh, no, not a career. But at those salaries, I could save up enough in three or four years to go back and get my Ph.D. And, well, I do kind of enjoy playing."
"Then it's obvious. Put your name in. Maybe you get picked, maybe you don't, but what the heck, you don't care that much anyway. Whatever happens should be OK, right?"
"Good point, Paul. I'll give it a shot, we'll see what happens. Thanks for your advice."
That was the year after the NFL set up a bunch of expansion clubs. Franchises that lost every game the first year, and damn near every one the second year. Except, of course, for the Richmond Rebels. They drew Jean Marie, and they took the conference championship, and they would have won the Super Bowl if Jean Marie hadn't failed to show up for the game.
It was sheer coincidence that she ended up on a team so close to our college. I was still there, having gotten an assistantship to work on my Master's degree. She found out and sent me a season pass to all the Rebels' home games.
I think they gave each player a bunch to hand out, just in the hopes of filling the stadium. The previous season had ended with the team winning just one game, against the Boise Spuds, another expansion club. The stadium had been so empty the last game of the season that the hot-dog vendors outnumbered the fans. Later in the season I was offered an outrageous price for the remainder of that pass, but I decided to keep it out of friendship for Jean Marie.
I watched all those home games, and I watched Jean Marie win them for the Rebels almost singlehanded. She played wide receiver--is there any such thing as a narrow receiver? I told you I know diddeley about football. She would go down field until she was in the clear, then jump ten or fifteen feet to grab a pass that was deliberately over everyone's heads. She'd come down already running and outdistance all the opposition to make a touchdown. Or she'd catch a quick lateral, jump over the tangle of players at the line of scrimmage, and take off down the field. Once she got moving, nobody could catch her. Remember that two minute mile?
All that usually took two or three plays, maximum, from the time the opponents kicked off, sometimes only one. Then the other team had to begin the long, weary process of trying to drive down the field and score. Only they didn't get very long to try.
Even I know enough about football to know that there are defensive players and offensive players nowadays. But way, way back the same players played both, and the Rebels' coach had put Jean Marie on both his offensive and defensive rosters. Either the old rules are still good, or he found a loophole, or something, but he managed. So the Rebels would kick off, and the opponents would get the ball, and there she was waiting.
Let them try a pass anywhere near her, she would jump up into the air ten or fifteen feet and snag the ball ten yards before it got to the intended receiver. She'd usually get a good runback, too. Even if she didn't get a touchdown on the interception the Rebels now had the ball back and would score in another couple of plays.
Or the opponents would keep it on the ground, try a running play. Don't ask me how a 150 pound girl could tackle like that, I don't know. Some times she wouldn't even tackle the opponent, she would just--somehow--strip out the ball. Before the other team woke up to the fact that it was playing defense, she had scored.
It was outrageous. One week the Rebels won by 97 to nothing, would have been 98 but one extra point was missed. They finished the season undefeated, Eastern Division champs in their conference. And they won the playoffs, and were getting set to win the Super Bowl, when Jean Marie disappeared. She just didn't show up for the game, and of course the Rebels got murdered. They weren't very good to start with, and they had gotten in the habit of letting her do everything, and when she wasn't there, forget it. They lost big!
It took me by surprise, too. By the time I figured out the truth, the rewriting of history had begun, and Jean Marie's name had begun to vanish from the records. Or maybe the rewriting was what tipped me off, there was only one outfit big enough to do that--the good ole U. S. of A. government.
That was the year NASA started setting up all those top secret planetary missions. Of course no one knew about it then, it was Top Secret, but it came out a decade later. A whole bunch of recent grads vanished right about that time, ones with degrees in the hard sciences.
Jean Marie had pulled off a double major, in Physics and Computer Science, and her senior project in Physics had something to do with the effects of high gravity. A prime candidate for the Jupiter mission, I'd say. When they finally declassified some of the records of that mission, it included a story about how they got into real bad trouble. They were only saved when one person was able to go out into three G's and a methane atmosphere, wearing nothing but Spandex tights and an oxygen mask, to make heavy repairs. Any guesses who that might have been?
But they wanted to keep it under wraps when they started the projects, and a Super Bowl winner vanishing would have been too conspicuous. Look back on the records of that season now, and you'll see the Rebels made it to the Bowl by a serious of flukes and accidents. No mention of Jean Marie Benoit, the first woman player in the NFL. Shades of George Orwell. They did a really thorough job. Maybe too thorough.
About four years ago they started rotating people back from the various planetary bases. That was also when they started to declassify the program. Planetary service turned out to be an easy ticket into politics for some, including Jean Marie. I'm living in a different state now, so it was a while before I noticed that she was Congresswoman from the district the college was in. But I've seen the pictures, it's definitely her.
Now, this year, Jean Marie has suddenly popped up as a Presidential possible. One poll shows her a dead cinch for her party's nomination and a heavy favorite in the election. Other polls are only slightly less optimistic about her chances.
And I'll bet she wishes they hadn't been so thorough wiping her out of the NFL. After all, a winning year in football is a good plus when you're running for President. Look at the man in the Oval Office two terms back, the one they called "The Nation's Quarterback." So she won't be the first NFLer to hold that office anyway, just the first female NFLer.
Still, after she gets elected, I'm going to write her a letter
and see if she remembers me. I'm going to suggest she try to get
history set back to reality. Oh, it doesn't really matter that I
seem to be the only person who remembers her season in the NFL,
or that I get a lot of horselaughs when I mention it. But I sure
would like to get rid of that silly women-in-the-NFL rally in
the park. It really messes up my lunchtime walk.