Kicking Through Gender Norms


A picture of Fuller’s “Play Like a Girl” helmet that she wears to empower other female athletes. (Vanderbilt University)

Bella Rock, Social Media Editor

For the longest time, high school football was as far as a girl could expect to go for a football career. Even then, a female football player has been far from the norm. However, a domino effect of unfortunate events, injuries and COVID-19 cases, created an opening for Sarah Fuller, previously the goalkeeper for the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, to push through this boundary and become the first female to play in a Power Five game. 

With multiple players quarantining due to the global pandemic, the Vanderbilt Commodores football team found themselves in need of a kicker. In a frenzy to fill this role, head coach, Ken Masuhr turned to Fuller. After partaking in a few strong practice kicks, she earned herself a spot on the team. Additionally, she remained on the roster even as the other kickers came out of quarantine.

Fuller’s first game, in which the Commodores faced off against Missouri Tigers, was not met with success, in which she didn’t score and made a squib kickoff in the opening of the second half. 

Despite this, on Saturday, December 12th, Fuller became the first woman to score in a Power Five game, where Vanderbilt played Tennessee. In said game, whilst Vanderbilt didn’t win, she did kick two extra points for the team. 

Although from a statistical standpoint, Fuller’s game play wasn’t groundbreaking, culturally she had a massive impact. Fuller has become an inspiration for young girls who are passionate about football but struggled to get past the barriers of gender norms that are all too often built into the sport and its culture. 

Fuller told NPR that many young female players for high school football teams have reached out to her, with Fuller saying, “They’re like, ‘This is so cool.’ I’m like, ‘No – what you’re doing is cool’ … I’ve been very inspired by them and their courage to step out.” Along with this, many women took to the internet to express their excitement for Fuller and her position on the team.

In one instance, Brooke Meenachan, WKBN reporter, tweeted, “The amount of women I see supporting Sarah Fuller as she makes history kicking for Vandy is inspiring.” However, Meenachan’s message finished out highlighting the consequences and backlash that have come with Fuller’s entrance into the football world, writing, “However, the amount of men I see disrespecting her and this historic feat is so incredibly disappointing.” 

Meenachan’s statement rings true in that Fuller has encountered many who talk down on her for disrupting societal gender norms. In one instance, the Sports Center post announcing that Fuller would be playing against Missouri, the comment section was littered with countless people wishing physical and sexual harassment on the incoming kicker.

Fuller has still persevered in the face of adversity, telling NPR, “To any of the young girls out there — anyone in general — I would just say to continue working hard but understand that there are going to be challenges that come your way.”