The New York Sharks donned cleats, shoulder pads and helmets, mustering all their strength in trying to pound through the Minnesota Vixens' defense. But these players were aiming at more than just the opposing line--they hoped to knock down the barriers that have kept women out of one of the last exclusively male sports.

The exhibition game last Saturday in Uniondale, N.Y., was part of an effort to launch a professional tackle football league for women. Organizers hope to ride the wave of enthusiasm for women's sports generated by the U.S. soccer victory in the Women's World Cup, the success of the WNBA and the triumphs of American Olympic teams in women's hockey and softball.

The Women's Professional Football League, based in Edina, Minn., has two teams--the Vixens and the Lake Michigan Minx. They have played one another in a handful of games in the Midwest. Organizers hope to have six to eight teams for the 2000 season and at least 12 for 2001.

Basketball

Barkley Ready for Rehabilitation

Houston Rockets forward Charles Barkley checked out of Methodist Hospital in Houston yesterday, two days after undergoing knee surgery. Surgeons reattached the tendon that connects the quadriceps muscle to Barkley's left knee. He now faces six months of rehabilitation.

Soccer

Sportswomen of the Year

The U.S. women's national team was named Sports Illustrated's sportswomen of the year for 1999. The team, which won the Women's World Cup this summer, is the first from the sport of soccer and the second team to be honored since the award started in 1954. The gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic hockey team was named sportsmen of the year in 1980. . . . The U.S. women's national team will open the home part of its 2000 schedule with an exhibition game against Norway on Feb. 6 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Americans won the Women's World Cup in 1991 and 1999, the Norwegians won in 1995.

Tennis

Open House

U.S. Open singles champions Andre Agassi and Serena Williams were invited to the White House to meet President Clinton on Wednesday. Although official records aren't kept, the White House visits could be the first ever to honor U.S. Open champions, according to U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Joe Favorito.

Winter Sports

Bobsled Disqualification

Bobsledding's world body disqualified German Olympic and World Cup champion Christoph Langen yesterday for using an illegal two-man sled in "an apparent calculated attempt" to break the rules. The International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Federation (FIBT) said Langen's sled had been disqualified from the two-man event at Winterberg, Germany, Dec. 4, and the team was stripped of points and prize money for using an illegal axle. . . .

Norway's Finn-Christian Jagge won a World Cup slalom, beating Austrians Benjamin Raich and Thomas Stangassinger in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy. Jagge, 33, an Olympic slalom champion, edged Raich by 0.23 seconds, and Stangassinger by 0.57.

Boxing

Lee Steps Aside

IBF President Robert Lee Sr. has taken a leave of absence from the group he founded so he can defend himself against charges he took bribes to rig boxing rankings. The IBF hopes the move will persuade federal prosecutors to drop attempts to install a court-appointed monitor for one of the sport's major governing bodies. . . .

World Boxing Council President Jose Sulaiman has decided to strip "Prince" Naseem Hamed of its version of the featherweight title because Hamed will not relinquish his World Boxing Organization crown. In a recent interview, Sulaiman said that Hamed had agreed last October with then-WBC champion Cesar Soto that the winner would have 15 days to decide which title to keep; Hamed won.

Locally

Jack Kent Cooke Award

The Quarterback Club has selected Marco Coleman, Stephen Davis, Brad Johnson, Tre Johnson and Michael Westbrook as its five finalists for the 1999 Jack Kent Cooke Award, give annually to the Redskins player of the year.