In (non-SDMB) threads about the possibility of women playing in the NFL (not likely, but still possible), there would often be an MRA vs. feminist ragefest about whether women were physically up to the task. And alongside of the usual muscles and brawn science debate there was also the social/cultural issue of whether it would be right for a male player to play a female opponent as physically as he would a male opponent.
This thread could probably be GD/IMHO but Game Room may be best. From a biological perspective, there could no doubt be some women found in America (or in the world) who would be as physically elite as a male NFL player and could play football at the pro level. But from a social/cultural standpoint, would it be appropriate for a male NFL player to slam her to the turf as hard as he would anyone else?
I don’t see why not. I would assume that anyone, male or female, playing on a professional level has been playing the sport competitively for a good portion of their lives. Perhaps co-ed, perhaps not. Any woman who is playing at this level of athleticism and skill isn’t some “delicate little flower” who needs to be treated with kid gloves. She is likely a fierce competitor who has been taking (and likely giving) those kinds of hits for quite a while. I imagine she might even be offended by men “taking it easy” on her.
I ended my Army career in a Training Support Battalion that, among other things, specialized in teaching combatives (aka hand to hand combat.) Along with the predeployment training required for troops we were supporting our combatives instructors ran numerous certification training cycles. Part of it was ensuring we maintained a broad pool of certified instructors. Another big part was the experience was good preparation for our actual missions; training people on combatives was the best way to maintain skill at training people on combatives.
Gender mostly didn’t matter. I saw a lot of hand to hand training events just in the scope of my duties to check on training. We also ran a lot of combatives certification cycles to both keep our trainers fresh and keep a braod base of available instructors. At times individuals let gender affect their behavior and it showed.
My first thought on reading the OP was one case where someone let it matter. One of our female NCOs going through the training was rolling with another student in the end of course tournament. The uniform for that event was the ACU uniform pants and t-shirt without the blouse. The female NCO in question was also on the large breasted side. At one point her struggling opponent got a good handful of t-shirt and breast…and suddenly pulled his hand back. The lead instructor moved in and was saying things like “She’s a Sergeant not a girl” and “You’re going to let her kick your ass.” He wasn’t able to work all the way through his personal issues before submitting. She did kick his ass. Lesson delivered to the rest of the class. Her next opponent didn’t make the same mistake and beat her.
I don’t really recall any issues in the more tactical training events. (Like room clearing with weapons but the scenario doesn’t rate deadly force.) By the time you dress everyone in full tactical uniform and the opponent is in a padded suit to protect them from strikes there’s not a lot of visible cues about sex or gender. I’d expect some of the same effect in the NFL. All the protective padding will hide some of the cues that might enable subconscious discrimination. For the rest, I’d expect they’d learn pretty quickly that “She’s a running back not a girl.” There are real incentives, including financial, to overcome the cultural sexism they may have been raised with. Over time, I’d expect the personnnel system to mostly weed out those that can’t “hit a girl.”
The NFL is basically a superhero universe. Most people don’t realize how super human they are. That giant they think is just a fat guy is quicker than just about anyone you know over short distances as well as being amazingly big and strong.
The counter-argument to that is that the NFL isn’t a charity. Even if the average female athlete might be “a weak link” if she were to play, no average athlete would ever be given the chance. If a female player walks onto that field, it will be because she’s proven she, personally, isn’t a weak link.
Now, from a purely physical standpoint, what might make a woman more or less vulnerable to hard impact than a man? I’ve read that women’s skulls often don’t provide the same protection against cranial injury as men’s (but the source was the not-so-scientific Reader’s Digest, so take that for what it’s worth.) But women usually have more subcutaneous fat; does that insulate internal organs better?
What about bone density, etc.? Are women likelier to suffer fractures?
Let’s add a dose of reality to this thread. The position most likely for a woman to break into the NFL is as a kicker. That has already occurred in college football. Kickers are not regularly subject to strong contact, but it does happen. The situation where a fake or a fumble results in a female kicker holding a live ball in the NFL facing an active defense is not one that I would want to watch.