GOOD

How This Stigma-Defying Young Woman Started The First All-Girls Tackle Football League

These players are changing what it means to throw 'like a girl.'

By Euna Park

At 9 years old, Sam Gordon learned the hard way that being the best didn’t always mean getting picked first.

She was fast and agile, beating every single boy at her first ever tryouts for tackle football. She exceeded her dad’s already high expectations. He knew Sam was a gifted athlete, but seeing just how gifted she was blew him away.


Rather than being first pick in the draft, Sam was put onto the seventh of nine teams. Around 80 boys who were slower and not as agile were picked before her.

“I had to explain to her, a 9-year-old, ‘Sam, because you’re a girl, you are going to have more obstacles to success than if you were a boy,” says Sam’s father, Brent Gordon.

But rather than be discouraged, Sam didn’t let that unfairness hold her back.

“I decided to prove the coaches wrong,” Sam says, now 14 and a freshman in high school.

And that’s just what she did: All season long, she used her small size and speed to weave in and out of holes in the defense, taking hits and making hits as she went.

That season — her first season of playing tackle football with an entire league of boys — she scored 35 touchdowns, rushed nearly 2,000 yards, and made 65 tackles.

Her father made a video reel of Sam’s highlights from the season — and the video went viral.

Finally, everyone saw the talented football player she was.

Sam was put on a Wheaties box, invited to the Super Bowl, and even went on a variety of talk shows.

While she was never afraid to tackle and play as the lone girl on a team, other girls were, which meant they never got the chance to play tackle football because, if they wanted to, they had to join a boys team. Even after Sam’s video went viral, parents were still nervous about putting their daughters in a boys football league.

\nThat’s why Crystal Sacco, a former football player, reached out to Brent with the proposal of starting a girls tackle football league.\n

At first, Brent wasn’t sure there would be enough girls to start the league. But his worries soon vanished. Sam was asked to speak at a middle school about how she plays football and she asked the assembly room if any girls wanted to join her.

“I’m not kidding, every single girl’s hand shot up,” says Brent. He called Sacco the next day. Soon after, Sacco and Brent set up all the necessary measures to begin opening up the sport for girls who always wanted to play.

The Utah Girls Tackle Football League had their first season in 2014. Within one week, 50 girls signed up.

And the number of sign-ups doubles each year. They’re currently going into their fourth season, and they might have as many as 400 players.

The best part is, prior experience doesn’t seem to factor into who succeeds on the team.

“Around 80% of the girls have no experience playing football,” says Sacco, but that’s OK because they’re taught from the ground up. “When they put on those pads and helmets, they just emotionally fit into it.” She wanted to show these girls, ones who weren’t the most confident in themselves, that “strong is OK.”

Despite the majority of the girls not having experience, competition on the field didn’t take long to become fierce, says Sam. “It’s tough out there,” she says. “And everybody is super passionate about it.”

“At the first game, one of the referees came back to me and said, ‘You guys have more fans in attendance than we see at high school sophomore games,’” says Brent.

The league was a clear hit with girls and parents alike.

“One of the best things about starting up this league is that I will get, almost on a weekly basis, either a text message or email from a parent that signed up their daughter for football tell[ing] me how big of an impact playing football has had on their daughter’s self-esteem, confidence, mood — attitude in general,” he says.

In their town of Herriman, Utah, football is everything. Boys in the town start playing at age 8. “Now girls have this [same] opportunity,” says Sam.

The Utah Girls Tackle Football League may have been the first of its kind, but it definitely won't be the last.

Small leagues have popped up in other states like Indiana and Georgia. Even the NFL recognized the influence, naming Sam as the first ever winner of the Game Changer Award at this year’s NFL Honors.

Girls finally have their own space to compete in football, a place where they can get into the sport while breaking down bias of what it means to “play like a girl.” They’re proving that they can be just as good, if not better, than the boys. It’s about more than having the chance to play the game, it’s about continuing a legacy of strong women who reclaim and open up new spaces for future generations of women in sports.

This story was produced as part of a campaign called "17 Days" with DICK'S Sporting Goods. These stories aim to shine a light on real occurrences of sports bringing people together.

Share image via Sam Gordon/Instagram.

Articles
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet