Breaking the gender barrier

Sarah Fuller’s recent score in a Power 5 football game has brought attention to women’s involvement in contact sports that are perceived as male dominated.


Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt University football player Sarah Fuller prepares for the Vanderbilt v. University of Missouri football game Nov. 28. Fuller was the first woman to ever play in a Power 5 game. photo courtesy of USA Today Sports

by Lauren Brackney, Social Media Team

Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller made history Nov. 28, 2020 when she kicked a field goal and scored, making her the first female collegiate football player to score in a Power 5 football game. Since, she has inspired young female athletes to engage more in male-dominated sports and was invited to attend the Presidential Inauguration.

“I really think it’s cool, especially for younger girls who are growing up now and seeing what sport they want to go into, to see girls in sports that typically are played by men, when female teams don’t even exist,” senior Juliet Barnett said.

Barnett played on a co-ed rugby team when she was in seventh grade. Many contact sports are dominated by male players which gives female athletes limited opportunities to play single sex contact sports. Barnett’s rugby team was co-ed with around five other girls on her team. She remembered that the environment playing for a coed team was different than playing for a typical all women’s team.

“I think it is different because obviously there’s boys, but I felt like there was a little bit of a competition, like you had to prove yourself for being a girl in this sport,” Barnett said. “For me that wasn’t that bad because it was more just for fun like to get together with friends kind of thing, rather than a fully competitive environment.”

Barnett no longer plays the sport but now hopes to get back into the game in college with encouragement from STA’s weightlifting and sports performance coach Amanda Hull. Hull plays for the Kansas City Jazz women’s rugby team and is striving toward playing for the Kansas City Force women’s football team.

“I like that [rugby] gives you the opportunity to see how far you can push yourself,” Hull said. “In the summer in Missouri, like at the Sevens Games, they’re kind of faster, so you have to sprint a lot more and there’s lots of people on the field so situations where you see how hard you can push yourself.”

Coaching gives Hull the opportunity to inspire STA students to succeed in any sport they choose.

“[Strength and conditioning] is a male-dominated field too, especially at the collegiate level, having a woman in any aspect that is usually coached by a male or taught by male is really powerful, and so to have girls seeing that they can lift weights and they can play rugby and tackle people is really important,” Hull said.

Current Rockhurst football coach Kelly Donohoe has coached football for over 25 years. During all his years of coaching football, he has only coached male students with one exception.

“I did coach a girl in 1993 or [199]4 at Blue Springs South, but that wasn’t a very good experience,” Donohoe said. “At the first or second practice she broke her arm really bad and it was a really tough thing to work through.”

After this experience, Donohoe became more aware of the safety of his players, especially women and small, male players.

“I think coaches are very worried about the safety of their players, and my experience with the girl that came out that one year and had a very bad broken arm, it makes me very worried because it is a very physical, sometimes very violent sport with really big, strong guys,” Donohoe said.

The physical aspect of many contact sports and more attention on male athletes has created a gender barrier that prevents many female athletes from playing the sport.

“I think it’s slowly getting broken down,” Hull said. “I think the more women that play contact sports and talk about it, the more those barriers are going to go away. And just having them be around women playing contact sports and having them realize that even though it’s women playing with women it’s still the same game. They’re still playing hard.”

Donohoe believes that in the future, more women will have the possibility of working alongside men in professional sports, like the NFL, as kickers and punters like Fuller. 

“I think that there’s some really talented girls that are soccer players, that if they focused on kicking that oval, brown thing, they could, absolutely one day,” Donohoe said. “I do think in the NFL as a kicker, there’s going to be potential for that one day and as a punter too.”

With more opportunities to get involved in contact sports for women as athletes and coaches, Hull advises that more women should go against the gender barrier.

“There are always going to be the people before you, that furthered the game so that you can come in and play where you are like there were women that played right before me that made it so I could find a team here in Kansas City and play on it,” Hull said. “I think the more people that participate in contact sport, to kind of make it more of a norm, the more it will be easily accessible to people. And just always try if you want to do something, just always put yourself out there.”