It’s time to reevaluate the Powderpuff tradition

Alex Erdekian

Pictured above is an actual "powderpuff," the inspiration for the title of the girls' flag football game. Senior girls Alex and Lizzy call for modifications to Wayland's Powderpuff game.
Hazing in a sorority by forcing pledges to drive drunk. The town whose team name is “The Redskins.” Schools that continue to segregate their proms by race.

Just because something is a tradition doesn’t make it right. As loved as Powderpuff is, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate this tradition for what it’s worth.

Wayland’s Powderpuff game should be reformed because its name is blatantly sexist and the game puts its participants in danger. However, the game should not be discontinued as the Wayland community supports Powderpuff, it unifies the girls of the senior class and it can become acceptable with the proper alterations.

The name “powderpuff” originated from the makeup tool that girls would use to powder their faces in public in the 1940s when the games first started, which was more or less a giant fluffy brush. The name in itself perpetuates the stereotype that females are fragile, prissy and incapable of causing damage on the field. By reinforcing the false belief that girls are too wimpy to hurt each other, the title “powderpuff” makes the game especially dangerous.

Powderpuff games should just be called “flag football,” plain and simple. Unlike “powderpuff,” this would label the sport as what it is without minimizing its dangers or degrading women.

Knowledge of Wayland’s games against Weston in recent history would serve to debunk the current name’s assumption that girls can’t cause damage. Last year, Weston player Sophie Alphas broke her wrist when a Wayland player knocked her over. And this injury isn’t an isolated example of Powderpuff’s apparent danger.

Newton South High School has been in the news in recent weeks after their principal, Joel Stembridge, elected to remove the annual junior-senior Powderpuff game from the school. Stembridge wrote a letter to local parents explaining his decision, citing both sexism and safety as primary reasons.

“Last year alone, there were three concussions and one serious knee injury,” Stembridge wrote. “A couple of years ago there were broken bones.”

The long-standing rivalry between Weston and Wayland only exacerbates dangers already present in the sport.

“With our year, rivalry was really bad between Weston and Wayland, so I think that definitely intensified it,” Alphas said.

Another factor that adds to the safety risk in Powderpuff is that the rules of flag football are not closely followed. To make matters worse, players aren’t required to wear any form of gear or equipment to protect against injuries.

“I don’t think the rules are strictly adhered to,” co-head coach of Wayland Powderpuff, Josh O’Neil, said. “You obviously can’t hold or do anything that the refs would think would put anyone in danger, but I think most hard contact will be acceptable.”

It’s true that participating in any sport comes with an inherent risk, but the difference between the official high school sports, such as girls’ soccer and lacrosse, and Powderpuff is that the school teams have strictly enforced requirements for equipment and rules for the game that better ensure safety. Powderpuff should be held to the same standards. Either the rules of flag football should be strictly enforced, eliminating the dangerous shoving and tackling, or the girls should be required to wear protective gear.

As senior girls who chose not to participate in Powderpuff based on the several issues we’ve identified with it, we call for its reformation but not its cancellation. Students and participants spanning every grade support the game and look forward to it. The way that Powderpuff unites the senior girls makes this tradition worth preserving.

If the proper modifications are made to the Powderpuff game, it can become an opportunity for female empowerment rather than degradation. By changing its name and enforcing safety measures, the game can be carried on in a way that better respects its participants and female athletes everywhere.

Check out the contrasting opinion.