[11/30/20] – Sarah Fuller and Women in Football

On November 6, 1869, the first formally recognized college football game occurred between Princeton and Rutgers. Although Liz Heaston and several other women have contributed to college football teams as early as 1997, it wasn’t until this past Saturday that a female played in a Power Five game. Sarah Fuller – who is also the goalkeeper for the Vanderbilt Women’s Soccer Team – was invited to join the Commodores on the football pitch this Saturday to serve as their formal placekicker. Sarah had an incredible week, starting with assisting the women’s soccer team to their first SEC Championship since 1994 and ended with her making history on the football field and paving the way for future generations of women athletes. In this week’s Lecture Spark, we explore the traditional gender norms that restrict access for women to areas of sport typically reserved for men. Specifically, we look to the practice of doing gender, gender socialization, and the football industrial complex that establishes the normative expectations of players and fans of American football.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Sarah Fuller and Women in Football

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain how the rise in female players on American football teams causes change in the broader social construction of masculinity and femininity.

LO2: Understand the power of placement of women in visible positions challenging the status quo can influence future generations of women to seek similar change.

LO3: Discuss the role of the football industrial complex in creating and perpetuating the narrative that American football is a sport reserved for men alone.


Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller on becoming the first woman to play in Power 5 game | SportsCenter

Vanderbilt Commodores kicker Sarah Fuller joins SportsCenter and shares what it has been like since suiting up as the first woman to play in a Power 5 conference game.

Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power 5 college football game

Fuller, the starting goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team, was tapped to play football this week after every member of the Commodores’ kicking squad had to stop due to coronavirus.

Vanderbilt Athletics | Sarah Fuller’s Historic Day

Relive Sarah Fuller’s historic day becoming the first female to play a snap in a Power 5 college football game for the Vanderbilt Commodores on Nov. 28, 2020, against Missouri in Columbia, Mo.

Discussion Questions

Why are women largely excluded from the sport of American football? What is the prevailing wisdom that is used to restrict open access for women athletes to American football at all levels, except for cheerleading and sports training? How does the experience of being excluded from football force women into other sports that are deemed more appropriate for women?

How does the social construction of a woman change when she steps foot on the football pitch suited up and ready to play? How does playing football challenge the femininity of women players? How does allowing women players onto teams challenge the masculinity of male players? Why are some male players afraid to allow women on the field? What changes – if any – need to be made to accommodate a co-ed version of college football?

What effects does a woman playing a historically aggressive sports have on the status on women players on and off the field? How does the increasing number of women football players change the social construction and normative expectations for all women? Why is it seen as being deviant for a woman to be aggressive and tough? What obstacles are created as a result of this social construction? How might Sarah’s performance in the game set the bar of expectations for future female kickers seeking to join college and professional football teams?

How does a woman playing football affect the expectations of women in other roles? Why is it important for women to gain access to traditionally male-dominated personal and professional enclaves and increase inclusion of women in decision-making at all levels of social order? Why have women been largely excluded from areas of social life outside of the home? What will the impact of COVID-19 – which opened the door for Sarah to join the Vanderbilt football team – be on the social construction of women and their ability moving forward?

What is the role of the media and the market in driving acceptance – if not at least tolerance – for women in American football? What are the limitations of creating a secondary market of Women’s Football in advancing gender equity? What parts of the female identity stand to be exploited by the football industrial complex in an effort to preserve the game of football as a male-dominated institution?


The social process by which human beings are introduced and inculcated into a specific pattern of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that inform their knowledge of gender performance is known sociologically as _______.
a. Gender identity
b. Gender socialization
c. Gender formation
d. Gender construction

From a _______ perspective, sociologists can focus on the role gender norms in creating stability in all social institutions of a patriarchal society…especially the family.
a. Functionalist
b. Conflict
c. Social order
d. Symbolic interactionist

A sociologist using a(n) _______ perspective would be most interested in investigating how the experience of playing American football – a historically male-dominated sport – as a woman causes changes to their gender identity and gender performance.
a. Egalitarian
b. Conflict
c. Ontological
d. Symbolic interactionist

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/BackyardProduction

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