Ladies in the game

Sarah Fuller makes history as the first female play in a men’s college football game


Sarah Fuller pictured in the locker room before the game (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Samantha Wexler, Staff Writer

It was almost hard to put into words what I was watching unfold in front of me last weekend. My sister, who follows Wake Forest sports and the occasional football or hockey game, came downstairs on Saturday afternoon. 

“Is the Vanderbilt Football game on TV here?”

Vanderbilt (0-7) takes on Missouri (3-3) and she wants to watch it on TV? There had to be something special going on, and boy was there. Enter Sarah Fuller: SEC Soccer Champion, Vanderbilt University graduate and now Vanderbilt Football Player.

Like many things in 2020, it all happened fast. Suddenly every single Vanderbilt kicker was in quarantine, all of the students were gone for Thanksgiving break and none of the players had a good enough leg to do kickoffs or field goals.

Sadly, the Vanderbilt offense was so upsettingly terrible that they never even got into their own offensive territory to give Fuller a chance to rip it through the uprights. When she did get in, for one marvelous second where the world seemed to stand still, she executed. Within just a few days, the special teams unit drew up a squib kick play that fit with her strengths as a soccer kicker and, as she has so many times before on the soccer field, she nailed it. It fell right around the 35 and was not returnable, just as she planned. 

Of course, there was the pushback. I really should just stop going on Twitter, but alas I do not. 

Complaints about the squib kick from men who obviously have no concept of special teams coverage in football weighed in. A whole bunch of men who never played anything higher than JV football as a sophomore in high school detailed how this was a PR stunt because there had to be someone from the Men’s Soccer Team (which Vanderbilt does not have), or a normal student (who were home for break and not following COVID-19 protocol) or another player (which had been tried already and failed). 

It doesn’t matter though, because on Saturday in Columbia, Mo., the highs and lows of collegiate sports seemed to fall silent as Sarah Fuller jogged out onto the field. The Mizzou crowd cheered for her, she did what she needed to do and her historic day inspired young girls everywhere to follow their dreams and not take no for an answer. 

Girls everywhere were inspired yet again as Callie Brownson trotted out onto the field in Jacksonville as a position coach for the Cleveland Browns. With tight ends Coach Drew Petzing at home with his family after the birth of his child, Brownson stepped in as she so frequently does throughout the organization and made history.

No stranger to breaking barriers, Brownson got her start in coaching with the Bills and has served as the Chief of Staff for the Browns this season. A former player and scholar of the game, she is further proof that gender is no indication of your abilities within the realm of sport.

But for every two steps forward there seems to be a step back. This week, that step back was Cris Collinsworth and his utter surprise that football fanatics in Pittsburgh could be *gasp* FEMALE! His apology was not even really an apology, showing that we almost always loop back to the same rhetoric.

So if you still do not get it, let me fill you in on a little secret. 

If Sarah Fuller can be a kicker in a FBS SEC Game, other girls can and will too. If Callie Brownson can be a position coach in the NFL, other girls can and will too. If Kim Ng can be a general manager in Major League Baseball, other girls can and will too.

Representation matters. 

Young girls today can look up and see Fuller, Brownson and Ng doing these things and think ‘I want to do that too!’ That is what made it so special. The result of the kick or if the Browns won or if the Marlins win the World Series is the least of my concerns. The fact that young girls can look on their TV and in the news and see women leading sports teams and playing in games is what matters most.

Those in the field who truly know the business and the game respect women who do too. Every player on the Vanderbilt Football Team, the Browns and the Marlins know just how hard Fuller, Brownson and Ng work and just how capable they are of doing their jobs.

So, just to be clear: women can know the same, if not MORE, than some men. We can work in sports. We can write about sports. We can read about sports. Most importantly, as we saw this weekend, we can play and we can manage and we can coach in male-dominated sports too. 

No, it’s not a figurehead or PR stunt. Sometimes, there are women who are the most qualified for a given role within sports.

So get used to it people. Ladies are in the game and we are here to stay.