History was made on Saturday by Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller, who became the first woman to play in a Power Five football game, when she kicked off to start the second half of the game.
Fuller, who was the starting goalkeeper for the SEC champion Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, got a call from one of her coaches telling her the football team needed a kicker, after all of the specialists currently on the roster were ruled out due to COVID-19 contact tracing.
So, she started practicing, and on Saturday in Columbia, Mo. she made history.
Due to the uh, lacking quality of the Vanderbilt Commmodores football team, she didn’t have any opportunities to kick a field goal or an extra point, but with that kickoff, she wrote her name into history.
Named the SEC co-special teams player of the week, Fuller was, rather predictably, the target of much abuse online from people who feel that a woman shouldn’t be on a college football field.
They’ll take the fact that her kickoff was a squib kick, even though it was designed that way, as proof that women don’t belong in the game, with the typical refrain about a player just going out and doing their job conveniently going out the window when that player is a woman.
Before we go any further, let me be clear, women belong in football at every level, just as they belong in every space, regardless of how male-dominated it may be.
But decades of pushback against this idea have prevented women from making inroads in the game in the way they could’ve. There are plenty of valid reasons to steer a child towards a different sport given what we’ve learned about the long term effects of playing football on the body and the brain, but “girls don’t play football” is not one of them.
The good news is that those who don’t believe women should play football are a shrinking, albeit vocal, minority. When she took the field in Columbia last Saturday, the stadium, with its limited capacity, erupted in masked cheers. The pandemic that made her moment of history possible also prevented it from occurring in a full stadium, but that doesn’t lessen the impact any. There are anecdotes from across the country about young girls glued to the TV, ready to watch Fuller kick, and that is where the real impact of each moment like this will be felt —in the children who were inspired by her kicking a football, just as it was when Katie Hnida did it at New Mexico in 2003, becoming the first woman to score a point in an FBS football game, and when April Goss did it for Kent State in 2015.
“I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to. You really can. If you have that mentality all the way through, you can do big things,” Fuller said in an interview with SEC Network after the game.
It was announced on Tuesday that Fuller will again be the Commodore’s placekicker this week against Georgia, giving her another shot to become the first woman to score a point in a power five conference, though given Vanderbilt’s offensive struggles against a much worse Missouri team last week, I won’t be holding my breath. But I will be watching, hoping she can achieve another historic feat. However, even if she doesn’t, even if she never kicked a football again, she would be a trailblazer worthy of our respect, not to mention an SEC champion in soccer.
There are many people, much smarter than me, with lived experiences of what it is like to be a woman in sports who have written about Fuller, and I highly recommend taking the time to read what they wrote on this topic they are much more qualified to speak on than I am. So I’ll leave with this: Go ‘Dores