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Monday, June 17, 2024
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Football and feminism

How Sarah Fuller cracked college football’s glass ceiling

 Saturday was a big day for college football fans everywhere.

At home in Buffalo, we cheered as we watched UB running back Jaret Patterson break record after record, as we’ve grown accustomed to. Patterson was awarded the attention of every major sports outlet, from CBS Sports to ESPN, and was even featured on LeBron James’ Instagram story following his phenomenal eight touchdown, 409 rushing yard performance. 

But Saturday, I wasn’t concerned with Patterson’s performance. 

I was focused on Sarah Fuller.

Sarah Fuller is a senior medicine, health and society major at Vanderbilt University. She is the starting goalie of the women’s soccer team, which she helped win the 2020 Southeastern Conference Championship just last week. 

But Saturday, Fuller wasn’t a goalie.

She wasn’t even a soccer player.

Saturday, Sarah Fuller made history for being the first woman to take the field in an SEC football game. She was asked to fill in after both kickers were exposed to COVID. 

I am not a football fan (ask my sports desk about the time I asked what an interception was). A Bills fan by proximity, I know very little about the Bills and Bulls players, and even less about the rules and regulations, but Saturday I was a full blown Vanderbilt football groupie. 

In American college football history, only 18 women have ever made their school’s roster. And those who have usually play kicker or holder, positions that are protected from full contact. Football is a violent game that comes with risks of on-field injuries like concussions and broken limbs, and even persistent health complications such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

It makes sense that women don’t frequent the line. The average college linebacker weighs around 200 lb. and is 6-feet tall. As a 5-foot-4, 102 lb. woman, you couldn’t pay me to try to hold my own against the likes of James Patterson in a game. But that doesn’t mean that women should be shut out as a whole.

When we imagine women in football, we often think of the Legends Football League, formerly known as the Lingerie Football League. Scantily clad women donning standard football helmets, paired with jerseys that extend no lower than the clavicle, exposing rhinestone embellished bras (not even sports bras, I’ll remind you) and booty shorts instead of thigh padding. These women are expected to maintain hourglass figures and perfectly spray-tanned bodies, while trying to avoid turf-burn and serious injuries with little to no protective equipment. I couldn’t do it, but I’m impressed and proud that they can.

When Fuller took to the field at the beginning of the third quarter, she executed a squib kick: a shallow kick meant to kill time and move the ball further down the field to prevent the other team from running the ball back. It’s not particularly exciting, and might look a little underwhelming when compared to field goals and punts, but it’s a strategic play teams use when they’re too far behind to take the lead and just need to hold off the other team. 

Fuller did exactly as she was told. Her 30-yard kick put her team in position to run down the clock and prevent the Missouri Tigers from gaining a bigger lead. But if you look at the comment sections under reports of this historic moment, you’ll be bombarded with overwhelming misogyny.

CBS Sports posted a TikTok compilation of achievements women have made in sports in 2020, but instead of celebrating these women’s accomplishments, users like @joeljameson15 can be found clutching their egos. 

“Bruh, we don’t invade your sports and celebrate it like it’s an amazing step in history. SMH, stay in your lane and make your own greatness,” Jameson said.

Others, like @benrwhite2, don’t understand that the National Football League and college football teams are co-ed. Women and men alike can try out and play based on their athletic ability, not their gender.

“Does this mean I can join the WNBA and drop 100 points in a game?”

No Ben, the WNBA is a women-only league. That’s why it’s called the Women’s National Basketball Association.

Hundreds of other comments accuse Fuller of being responsible for losing the game or only seeing playing time because she is a woman.

Like it or not, Vanderbilt was going to lose the game, even before Fuller stepped onto the field. Her one kick and roughly 10 seconds of playing time did not change that outcome.

But it did change the minds of millions of little girls who before this, didn’t think football was an option for them.

Fuller is an exemplary athlete. A Division I player on two different teams, in two different sports, she is a role model, and following the tough loss, she wasn’t disappointed. She was proud and poised as she told reporters, “the fact that I can represent the little girls out there who wanted to do this, or thought about playing football or any sport really, and encourage them to step out and do something big like this is awesome.”

Fuller will forever be a feminist icon. Not the first woman to play in a college football game, and definitely not the last, this weekend she helped crack the glass ceiling for many women to come.

“I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to,” Fuller said. “And if you have that mentality, you can do big things.”

Reilly Mullen is the managing editor and can be reached at or on Twitter @ReillyMMullen. 

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Reilly Mullen is the editor-in-chief at The Spectrum. She is a senior majoring in political science with a journalism certificate. She enjoys Dunkin’ iced lattes and Scrabble. A former web, features, news and managing editor, she is a columnist at heart but has covered everything from UB Football to breaking news. 



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