Playing Like a Girl

Women break into traditional men’s sports like professional football


AP Images

Sarah Fuller kicks off as the first woman to kick in a power five game.

The first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks of football might not be women. But the score has changed, and some women are changing the game on how women are portrayed in the sport.

With the likes of Sarah Fuller, the first woman soccer player to score a point as the kicker in a power five-game, Sarah Thomas, the first woman to referee a Super Bowl game, and Katie Sowers, the first woman to be an acting head coach an NFL team, there seems to be a trend in what could be many firsts to come and plenty to look forward to as more women participate and begin to change the perspective of “men’s sports.”

“I feel like it’s good for women to be included and to show that they can be tough and be strong and do the same thing as men,” junior Diego Arriaga said. “It shows that our society is growing and being more inclusive.”

These changes in mindset are brought from women like Sarah Fuller who was the goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s conference champion women’s soccer team and appeared in her second game for the Commodores football team. Her opportunity came because many of Vanderbilt’s specialists were in quarantine due to COVID-19. She had an opportunity and did not look back as she became the starting kicker for Vanderbilt, scoring more points for her team every game. Each time she played, she also wore the phrase “Play Like A Girl” on the back of her helmet so young girls watching could see a message about the woman’s athletic ability to contribute.

“It is great to see more women in the sport and to see that women are making an impact in a sport that has always looked at for only men,” junior Jailee Salazar said.

Another first was Sarah Thomas whose blonde ponytail sticking out of her NFL referee cap was hard to miss as millions were watching her make calls on T.V. Growing up, she was used to having to play sports with men. When she was in the 5th grade there was a boy’s basketball team and the only option she had was to join the team because there was no woman’s basketball team.

“I was the only woman on the team; I had to join,” Thomas said in an interview with CBS Sports. “My mom said ‘then join,’ and so I did.”

This inspired her to make an impact in men-dominated sports- a motivation that would lead her to her current position in the NFL.

“With Sarah Thomas as a referee at the Super Bowl, what was considered only a male sport, shows it’s changing. A woman being there is great and gives a different eye on what’s going on because women think differently and see things differently,” junior Ian Herrod said.

According to CBS Sports, another big impact was Thomas’s mother as she saw things differently and wanted her to make an impact on the world. During her freshman year of college, her mother died. Before she passed away, Thomas was given a white angel representing that her mom will be there for every moment of her life even after death. After the game, Thomas ran to her family, realizing she had made her mother proud, and changed the view on who can referee, helping better the game as a whole.

I feel like it’s good for women to be included and to show that they can be tough and be strong and do the same thing as men.

— Diego Arriaga

“It may bring more safety to the NFL as women may see things that men don’t and can really help improve some sports with a new angle and new view on how plays are run and done,” Arriaga said.

Thomas was not the only woman to participate in a Super Bowl as Katie Sowers was the first woman to be a acting head coach and assistant coach in a Super Bowl game. Before then, she was only an assistant scout for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. In 2017, she was hired as an assistant offensive coach to the San Francisco 49ers. She was a major part of a successful Super Bowl team then as she ran plays for the second-best offense in the NFL in 2019. But, ultimately, she did resign as she felt that the NFL organization was not ready for a woman head coach yet.

“They felt the 49ers had the right intentions because they knew how it was to have a woman on staff, that it’d be a better fit,” an executive on the staff told Bleacher Report.

But their organization was not yet ready to have a woman on staff. He went on to say that one of the coaches came up to him and said, ‘Where are we going to put her desk? ‘Where we put everyone else’s desk.’ But that was another indicator to him that this organization is far from being ready.”

This imbalance was helped with the creation of the NFL’s Women’s Careers in Football Forum. This organization helps women going into jobs in the NFL receive exposure with head coaches and GM’s which provides diverse jobs among the league.

Since then, they have created 97 jobs since 2017 with 35 percent of the NFL staff being women serving in a vice president role or starting as a head football scout.

With everything that happened in recent years, some say it is a great look at a prominent future for women in not only football but in all sports, changing the way they are looked at based on gender, opening doors and defining the future for young women who will follow in their footsteps.