The perception of Sarah Fuller's breakthrough moment by Lady Bulldogs, Georgia football
The Vanderbilt football player is participating in an event surrounding Joe Biden's Inauguration on Wednesday night.
On the afternoon of Nov. 28, Joni Taylor didn’t have much knowledge of the anticipatory moment building within college football. Sarah Fuller suited up for the Vanderbilt football team as a place-kicker on that afternoon, and Taylor suddenly got word.
A lot of discussion centered around the addition of Fuller. Many realized the empowering moment, but others had their gripes. There were plenty of terms to describe Fuller on the male-dominant team. They said she was a “soccer player helping the football team” or “getting an opportunity to kick.”
Not very many called it as it is: Sarah Fuller was a football player.
Taylor, who had been a few days into her sixth season as the Georgia women’s basketball leader, couldn’t help but smile at the historic moment. Fuller broke the glass ceiling to open the second half of the Commodores’ contest against Missouri. She booted a squib kick and became the first female kicker in Power Five history.
“Women do what women do. We answer the call. We save the day,” Taylor said. “How profound. How impactful. She stepped up when she needed to, and that’s what women do over and over.”
Fuller stayed on the Vanderbilt roster for its final game against Tennessee. She converted an extra-point opportunity and etched her name in the school’s scoring record. She joined Kate Hnida (New Mexico) and April Goss (Kent State) as the only two female place-kickers for teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Fuller’s journey was supposed to make its way to Sanford Stadium, but Georgia didn’t get the chance as two postponements of the game eventually led to cancellation.
“So many hopes and dreams of many young girls hang on that,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said of Fuller before the scheduled Dec. 5 game. “She’s not afraid to do it. She’s not worried about what somebody is going to say. If she has a chance to help the team or contribute, then by all means, go do it.”
Fuller’s moment highlighted an otherwise-hectic 2020 college football season. She brought light to a program that needed an option to replace an absent kicker, and Fuller, the women’s soccer team goalkeeper, became the best option.
Fuller became a hero to young women and girls across the country. In many ways, the kicker who wore “Play Like a Girl” on the back of her helmet became a hero to those who aspired to reach those goals in their future. A load of football fans received inspiration and documented their gratitude on social media — regardless of age.
Nearly two months later, the nation saw its breakthrough moment. Kamala Harris was sworn in as America’s first woman to be Vice President. Harris, along with many women who rose into positions usually filled by men, gave children and young women the hopes and dreams that they could reach the same goal. Fuller falls along those same lines, so, the two-sport Commodore athlete got invited to make the trip to Washington, D.C on Jan. 20.
Fuller attended the Inauguration of the 46th President Joe Biden, and will actively participate on Wednesday evening. According to a report by NPR, Fuller will speak at a primetime event called “Celebrating America.” It’s an Inauguration concert featuring celebrities and influential people, hosted by actor Tom Hanks.
Those who don’t yet know Fuller will get their introduction, but the world of college athletics already felt her impact.
“For her to be a female kicker in football, period, that’s major,” Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker said. “A big salute to her for being able to step out of, I guess you could say a girl’s shoes, and come out there and play on the football field.”
“It’s a huge milestone in college football,” former Georgia tight end Tre’ McKitty said. “It created a lot of buzz to have a female in college football. I think it’s for the better.”
Biden, in his Inaugural Address, mentioned Harris and said “Don’t tell me change can’t happen.” Fuller’s seismic wave within the sports’ world is an example of how women have fought for recognition, equality and representation for many years.
It has been seen at the professional level with the NBA hiring women to high-level coaching positions, namely San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon. The WNBA fought for increased pay and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) ahead of last season and received heightened attention through a summer of social injustices. The NFL also has numerous women in coaching positions, and Sarah Thomas was recently announced as the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. She will be a down judge in Super Bowl LV.
At the college level, those efforts have been seen over recent months. Many women’s sports have had to fight for funding and opportunity during the Covid-19. In SEC women’s basketball, the conference has led the country in representation. Ten of the 14 coaches in the league are women. Seven — with the hire of Mississippi State’s Nikki McCray-Penson and promotion of Kentucky’s Kyra Elzy — are Black women.
Fuller exhibited a progression of women in athletics and shook the athletic landscape. She will receive recognition on one of the nation’s most-coveted days as a result.
But for those like Taylor, the moment of Fuller’s first kick didn’t come as much of a surprise. They know what women do.
“Obviously, it was very groundbreaking,” Taylor said. “I hope 10 years from now, it’s not very groundbreaking. That’s where we have to move the needle, so this is commonplace.”