Vanderbilt Girls Soccer Goalie is First Woman to Play in a Power 5 Football Game

On November 28, Vanderbilt women’s soccer goalie Sarah Fuller made history as the first woman to play in a Power 5 collegiate football game. Fuller is a senior at Vanderbilt and the starting goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team. She is an outstanding athlete with a 0.97 goals against average, which is the eighth-best mark in a season in Vanderbilt soccer history. And one recent day, Fuller received a call from her assistant soccer coach, which she had no idea would lead to a historic moment.
Fuller’s coach told her, “The football team needs a kicker—would you be willing to come out and try to kick for them?” The team needed a new kicker because many of the team’s specialists were in quarantine due to COVID-19. Hesitantly, Fuller replied, “I’ll be there in 30 minutes.” She showed up to try out, and the team was quite happy with her kicking abilities. Tryouts went on, and she eventually landed her spot as the kicker for the football game against Missouri. In the game, Fuller kicked off at the beginning of the second half, and her groundbreaking kick was received by Missouri at the 35-yard line.
Although Vanderbilt lost the game by a wide margin (the score was 41-0), Fuller has become an inspiration for millions of young girls and women. After the game, she said, I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to. You really can. If you have that mentality all the way through, you can do big things.”
A couple weeks later, on December 12, Fuller became the first woman to score in a Power 5 football game, as she kicked two extra points during a game against the University of Tennessee. The game again ended in a loss for Vanderbilt (the score was 42-17), but Fuller will go down in history for the points she put up with her successful kicks.
Perhaps no sport is more associated with masculinity than American football. It is in that context that Fuller was determined to spread a message on the field for the girls watching. She proudly displayed the words, “play like a girl” on the side of her helmet. “It used to be an insult, like ‘Oh, you play like a girl,’” she said, “and I wanted to turn that on its head and say, no, that’s actually a huge compliment to play like a girl. We’ve fought through so many things. And we’re showing up. Now we’re breaking down these barriers, and I want to make that clear.”
Fuller went on to say, “I think at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s if you can do the job. That’s what matters.”
There is a lot of power in Fuller’s message for the world of women’s sports. Sadly, however, she has faced brutal hate comments on social media from people wondering why the team couldn’t have found a man instead, and why she was even allowed to be playing. Instagram hate comments read, “They couldn’t have grabbed one from the guys’ team?” and claimed her appointment was merely a “Publicity stunt.” Being a woman in the sports world is hard, but social media and negative public opinions make it even harder. Regardless, Fuller has changed many girls’ perspectives on sports and the possibilities for their success in athletics.
Female athletes in the Latin community reflected on Fuller playing in the Vanderbilt game. Sophomore Carly Warms, a soccer and field hockey player, said, “Once I heard that Sarah Fuller would be kicking in the Vanderbilt football game, I immediately felt a sense of pride and empowerment. Being a female athlete, I feel that I have to prove my worth to others, specifically males, because often female athletes are underappreciated.” Carly went on to say, “I think that this experience for her demonstrates that anyone, even a girl, can achieve great things if they put in work.”
Similarly, junior Margot Bettman, a hockey player, said, “As a female athlete myself, it gives me a lot of hope for what sports might become in the future. I believe that Sarah has taken the first step in providing a home for women in football, and I think that it is amazing that women can now play in the field instead of just watching from the sidelines.”
Junior Lucy Mitchell, a tennis player, said, “Growing up, I was on all-boys teams, and all my athlete role models were men, so seeing Sarah Fuller breaking that barrier in college football meant a lot to me.” Lucy continued, “I was thinking about my younger self, watching football and basketball with my dad, and not even realizing that there were women out there playing as well. It means so much to know that young girls just starting to get into the sports world could see her on television, playing with all the guys, and maybe have a female role model instead of growing up watching and revering only men, the way that I did.” Lucy concluded, “I know that if I had seen that as a little girl, it would have changed my world.”
Junior Sam Gibson, a soccer player, said, “Fuller is one of the best women’s soccer players in the country and can kick a soccer ball incredibly far, so I’m glad the football team noticed that and took advantage of her ability. I don’t think a lot of people realize how hard it is to kick a football 30 yards through narrow posts like she did.” Sam continued, “I have a lot of respect for her because she had the courage to play a sport completely populated by men and become the first woman football player ever to score a point in Power 5 football. Additionally, she did it for a SEC team, which is the most competitive college football conference in the country.” Sam went on to say, “All these of these reasons make me proud of her extremely impressive accomplishment as a college football fan and soccer player.”
Remy Rigby, a junior and a volleyball player, said, “It’s really cool to finally see a female like Sarah break the gender dynamic and stereotypes solely based on something she loves. It’s very inspiring, and I hope that many young girls can follow in her footsteps and truly see how strong women can be.”