Sarah Fuller showed little girls around the world that they could do anything they set their mind to as she made history on November 28, 2020, by becoming the first woman ever to play in a “Power 5” football game.
The Vanderbilt women’s soccer goalie took the field in a football jersey as the team's starting place-kicker against Missouri six days after she wore a Vanderbilt soccer jersey for the final time.
In the past week, there has been no shortage of news stories about Sarah Fuller. I, too, wrote one of these stories when I first heard about Fuller’s potential history-making moment as a kicker.
And while the history is certainly significant, as these articles pile up across the internet, I find myself feeling irked about the amount of coverage Fuller has received in her four days as a football player.
Why weren’t people as interested in Fuller when she was a member of Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team?
Certainly, her story on the soccer field has no shortage of fascinating details. Like earlier this fall when – as a senior – she finally earned her first start, and then turned her team’s 1-2 start to the season into their first SEC title since 1994.
I think part of my uneasiness also comes from the circumstances surrounding Fuller’s selection. Because while Fuller might turn out to be a talented kicker, the reason she was chosen for this role is more complex, and oh so 2020.
According to a report by Simon Gibbs in Vanderbilt’s student newspaper, Fuller’s call-up wasn’t a “performance-related decision.” (Given that Vanderbilt’s football team is currently 0-7 on the season – and 3-7 in field goals – perhaps it should have been performance-related.) Instead, with many specialists in COVID-19 related quarantines – and graduate transfer kicker Oren Milstein opting out of the season – there was a roster spot to fill. And given Fuller’s recent success on the soccer pitch, she got the call.
But Fuller’s fast ascent – and the news articles documenting it – are representative of a larger problem that female athletes face in the fight for better treatment.
For male athletes to receive media coverage, the bar is not particularly high. But for female athletes to receive the same spotlight, it isn’t as easy as just playing their sport.
Because men’s sports are still treated with more reverence than women’s sports, a woman involved with a men’s team in any capacity typically receives more coverage than a woman simply playing her sport. (Bonus points if some type of glass ceiling-shattering situation is involved.)
All of this is not to say that Sarah Fuller, the football player, shouldn’t be covered, or celebrated. But if you want Fuller’s history-making moment on the football field to be a victory for women, appreciate the full context of her story, and ask why we only now know her name.