By Taylor Mascetta
Football has always been considered a sport for the boys. Girls have attempted to try out for high school and even collegiate teams before, only to be scoffed at for even trying.
Things changed, however, when Sarah Fuller took the field.
Fuller, a senior at Vanderbilt University, has long been familiar with the pressures that come with competing on the Division 1 scale. After all, she plays as the starting goalkeeper on the Vanderbilt Commodores’ soccer team, which won the Southeast Conference Championship title just this past November. The team pulled off an upset win over No. 1 seed Arkansas, and Vanderbilt took home their program’s first conference title since 1994. After three years of struggling with injuries, Fuller finally got her chance to command the field in the 2020 season, starting nine of the twelve games played by Vanderbilt this year. She’s posted three clean sheets to secure a 7-2-0 record in the net. However, on November 28, Fuller added another feat to her already impressive resume – becoming the first woman to ever compete in a Power Five Conference football game.
The decision to put Fuller in the game wasn’t politically motivated or a publicity stunt – it came out of complete desperation for a good player. The Vanderbilt football team needed a kicker for their November 28 matchup against the University of Missouri, as players fell left and right after COVID-19 exposures. The team ended up contacting Fuller, who they considered their best option, and she immediately stepped up to the challenge. She suited up for the game, wearing the number 32 and a helmet emblazoned with “Play Like A Girl” with pride.
In the game itself, Fuller started off the second half. Under the instruction of former head coach Derek Mason, Fuller executed a squib kick that traveled about 30 yards. Missouri acquired the ball with no chance for a return. The game, unfortunately, was a blowout loss for the Commodores, with the Tigers winning 41-0. Vanderbilt fell to a 0-8 record this season, and the school subsequently fired Coach Mason days later. However, the importance of the game does not lie within the scores or the loss itself. Fuller went on the field to do exactly what she needed to do, made history, and inspired millions of girls in the meantime.
If anyone would want to know what it is like to play sports as a woman, just scroll through Twitter for the day. While many accounts praised the historic achievement of Fuller’s presence on the field, a slew of negative responses and blatantly sexist remarks piled up as well. A viral tweet posted by Twitter user @emilyspada_ showed a variety of cruel comments mocking Fuller under an ESPN Instagram post. One asked why they couldn’t grab a player from the men’s team (funny, considering that Vanderbilt doesn’t have a men’s soccer team), another hoped Missouri would “rock” her, and another branded Vanderbilt’s team as a bunch of “SIMPs.” The most horrifying comment, however, scoffed that “Some better tackle the f–k out of her. Make her realize it’s 2020, and you shouldn’t be on the mfkn field.”
Say it with me now – W. T. F. Apparently, a woman daring to step onto the field threatened football’s untouchable masculinity. Well, what these fans need to realize is that it’s about time that women should be allowed to toe the line in football. Vanderbilt took a necessary step in the right direction, but the fact that a woman only played just because of COVID-19 complications is, quite frankly, disappointing.
Biological differences, admittedly, do play a factor. Putting a woman into the offensive or defensive line could prove to be quite dangerous, as men’s bodies are naturally much larger and stronger than women’s. However, that doesn’t be that male and female players can’t coexist on the same team. There’s no reason to prohibit a woman from playing positions such as a kicker in the game, especially if their stats are as impressive as Fuller’s. And, who knows, the possibility of a woman taking on an offensive or defensive position isn’t impossible. There are female football leagues in America today, many of which contain female players whose skills rival the NFL’s own.
To return to Fuller’s stats, these so-called football fans conveniently forgot what a squib kick looked like when Fuller stepped up to the plate. While the kick did look questionably short to a casual watcher, the kick’s intention involves preventing a long return on the other team’s behalf. It was a strategic move on Vanderbilt’s part, as it made it much more difficult for Missouri to gain distance for a touchdown. If a male player had done the same thing, the move would have been heralded as such.
Even off the field, Fuller has already started to make necessary, positive changes within the team’s culture itself. Football fans across the nation regard Vanderbilt as one of the worst teams in the SEC and Fuller is ready to turn their reputation around. During the game, she noticed a lack of enthusiasm on the sidelines. “We made a first down, and I was the only one cheering, and I was like, ‘What the heck? What’s going on?’ And I tried to get them pumped up.” She told ESPN. “We need to be cheering each other on. This is how you win games.” Instead of disregarding her opinion, players and coaches alike personally praised Fuller afterward, saying she said what they had been thinking all along.
Fuller also addressed the hate comments to ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game’s conclusion. “I’m just like, at this point, what are you doing?” She said.” I am a D1 soccer player. I go to Vanderbilt University. I’m going to get my degree from here. I’ve done amazing things that I’ve set out to do, and I’ve had goals of reaching, so they can talk crap all they want. This is something that I believe I’ve earned.” Fuller absolutely earned her spot on the team, and people need to recognize that. Additionally, these fans must remember Fuller, ironically, is the only player on the field with an SEC Conference title. She is more than qualified for the spot.
With that one kick, Sarah Fuller showed girls that they rightfully deserve a spot on the football field. Her haters can moan and groan about it all they want, but in the end, Fuller’s the one playing D1 football in the SEC while they sit on their couches and complain. In the end, she’s the one winning, and it’s a win for female athletes everywhere.