As Sarah Fuller took the field to pinch kick for Vanderbilt, she made a big statement with this iconic phrase on the back of her helmet. (Photo courtesy of Public Domain)
With a kickoff to start the second half of the Vanderbilt – Missouri game, Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power 5 college football game. The moment transcended sports and serves as an inspiration for little girls everywhere that they can achieve their wildest dreams.
After every member of the Commodores’ kicking squad came in contact with someone who tested positive for the Corona-virus, they were no longer eligible to play in the game on November 28th. They asked Sarah Fuller, a senior goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team, to trade in her soccer cleats for football pads this week.
Fuller helped Vanderbilt clinch its first Southeastern Conference women’s soccer title since 1994 with a 3-1 victory over Arkansas last Sunday. She told reporters after the game she was planning to head home to Wylie, Texas, for the Thanksgiving holiday when her soccer coach called her with the opportunity to kick this past weekend.
“I’ll be there within the hour,” she said to Ken Masuhr, the team’s associate head coach.
Fuller wore jersey number 32, the same number she wears on her soccer jersey, and the phrase “Play Like a Girl” displayed on the back of her helmet.
Play Like a Girl is a charitable organization inspiring girls through sport and active play. What started in 2004 with one woman, Dr. Kimberly Clayin, is now a national movement. They are leveling the playing field by leveraging the transferable skills girls gain from sports. Skills like dedication, communication, and self-responsibility give them a competitive edge in the classroom and propel young women into ambitious, male-dominated careers in STEM.
"I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to, you really can. And if you have that mentality all the way through, you can do big things."— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 28, 2020
Sarah Fuller is an inspiration 🙌 pic.twitter.com/rUi1hJYap9
“Honestly, it’s just so exciting,” Fuller said on the SEC Network. “The fact that I can represent the little girls out there who wanted to do this or thought about playing any sport really — it encourages them to step out and do something big like this.”
Women who play more high-intensity sports face a type of criticism/backlash men do not have to deal with. When Sarah posted an Instagram picture in her jersey before the game, people left nasty comments, stating she’s going to be “slaughtered,” and “plowed.” Others asked, “They couldn’t have grabbed one from the guy’s team?”
Girls grow up placed under stereotypes of being weaker and not capable of the physical abilities men have — especially when it comes to sports. Although it is true that women have a disadvantage compared to the natural abilities men have, women can be as strong as some men, but they can never be of the same physical build.
Still, the number of teams available, the disparity in pay compared to men’s teams, and the lack of support from fans often keep women from pursuing a professional career in their sport. Plus, in order to gain the recognition and respect of fans, women’s teams have to do 3 times as well as men’s teams to receive the same kind of appreciation men’s teams receive.
When talking to female athletes at Leesville Road High School, many understand the need to perform in order to be noticed.
Julia Cole is a sophomore at Leesville and is both the captain of the JV basketball team and a member of the varsity soccer team. She grew up playing sports with her brother and neighbors, so she understands the relationship between girls and boys while playing. “They would go ‘easy’ on me while they guarded me because they thought I might not have the abilities they had,” said Julia.
Growing up playing sports mostly influenced by men, she noticed that, “there can be a lot of pressure on female athletes to become better and improve their play because many sports are male dominant, and they receive more attention.” Growing up under the pressure she learned that “when a female athlete does feel judged or looked down upon, I believe that they should not let the judgments affect them and they should prove them wrong.”
Emma Farabaugh is also a sophomore at Leesville. She runs cross country and plays varsity soccer. She said, “My coaches always expect more and push me to reach my full potential, but finding the spot between a healthy mentality, physical exhaustion, and greatness is tedious but is the key to success.”
“As a female in sports, it is crucial to understand that pleasing everyone is impossible. There will always be coaches and players who will doubt,” said Emma.
Even without scoring, Sarah Fuller made a sizable impact on the football program, the SEC, and all of those watching from home; it is time we make it known that women in men’s sports should be highly respected. Plus, women’s sports are just as exciting, just as competitive, and just as difficult as men’s sports.