On Saturday, Sarah Fuller became the first woman to suit up and take the field for a Power-5 football team. The media has declared Fuller’s performance as Vanderbilt’s kicker a groundbreaking, glass ceiling shattering, historic moment. Many in media and the sports world echoed Hillary Clinton’s sentiment that Fuller proved “women and girls belong on every playing field—quite literally.” In a game of escalating hyperbole, ESPN eventually claimed victory by declaring that Fuller has achieved “immortality” through her play in Vanderbilt’s game against Missouri.
Admittedly, she was spectacular. Fuller went 5 for 5 on field goals, booted 3 touchbacks past the end zone, and even made a game saving tackle as the clock expired in regulation. Just kidding. Actually, she kicked one time, it went 30 yards, Vanderbilt lost 41 to zero, and the head coach was fired after the game. This is reality, not a movie. And in real life, women embarrass themselves when they try to play against male athletes.
But what we’ve witnessed after the kick heard round the world — a kick which actually went only 20 yards in the air and rolled another ten before the return team bailed her out by jumping on the ball before it went out of bounds and drew a penalty — has been the weirdest and most unnecessary coverup job in recent memory. The now-fired coach claimed that Fuller executed a masterful and pre-planned “squib kick.” The head coach of the team formerly known as the Redskins called it a perfect “mortar kick.” Elsewhere it has been called an onside kick. The SEC named Fuller one of their special teams players of the week for a “perfectly executed kick” that “sailed 30 yards.”
Again, back here in reality, it was not perfectly executed, and it was not a squib, a mortar, or an onside kick. There is no designed kick in all of football that calls for a kicker to boot it 20 yards to the sideline. And if there was such a designed kick, it’s not the play you’d call when you’re down 21 at the start of the third quarter. No, this was just a bad kick. Probably not much worse than what any schlub off the street would do, including myself, but not much better, either.
After the game, Fuller congratulated herself for proving that women can do anything. One is tempted to respond that women can do anything, apparently, except properly kick a football. One might also add that it’s a good thing the glass ceiling was only 30 yards away. Otherwise she never would have broken it. These would be harsh and mean spirited comments, however, and not the sort of thing I would ever say. Though I must admit, the temptation to ruthlessly mock Fuller becomes even stronger when you read about the half time speech she gave the team. From ABC:
With Vanderbilt trailing 21-0 at halftime, Fuller decided she wanted to address the team. “If I’m going to be honest, I was a little pissed off at how quiet everybody was on the sideline,” she said. “We made a first down, and I was the only one cheering and I was like — what the heck? What’s going on? And I tried to get them pumped up.” She said she compared it to Vanderbilt soccer’s SEC tournament-winning run, when the team was “cheering the entire time.” “I just went in there and I said exactly what I was thinking. I was like, ‘We need to be cheering each other on. This is how you win games. This is how you get better is by calling each other out for stuff, and I’m going to call you guys out. We need to be supporting one another. We need to be lifting each other up. That’s what a team’s about,'” Fuller said. “I think this team has struggled, and that’s been part of it. “We really just need to build that team camaraderie where they can all lean on one another. It was an adjustment going from that team mentality where — hey, we’re all here supporting one another — and I just wanted to bring that to this team.”
I have never heard of a kicker on any team, anywhere, giving a halftime lecture to the team. But such a lecture from a girl who was invited there as a publicity stunt would be, I imagine, intolerable. It reminds me of the time when I put my five-year-old daughter on my lap and let her “park the car” by driving it 10 feet up the drive way, and the next time she was in the car with me she started shouting driving tips from her booster seat in the back. “Daddy, make sure to stop at red lights,” etc. At least that was cute. It would not be as cute to have the girl from the women’s soccer team strutting down the sideline barking orders. Although, given the team’s record and performance, I can’t say they didn’t deserve the humiliation.
Indeed, Vanderbilt sent out a tweet after the bad kick with a picture of Sarah Fuller and the words “history made.” The tweet reads: “Sarah Fuller. Remember the name. #PlayLikeAGirl.” Credit where it’s due: they walked the walk. They really did play like girls. And lost by 41 points because of it.
All of this patronizing nonsense surrounding a bad kick from a woman whose ego perhaps exceeds her abilities on the football field is merely annoying for me as a man. For women, though, it is much worse than annoying. It is patronizing, degrading, and insulting. Are women really so unimpressive and bereft of achievement that we have to treat them like we would a small child who draws a bunch of scribbles on a sheet of construction paper and claims that it’s a picture of a tree? We congratulate the small child for his bad drawing because we do not expect children to do any better than that, and because they are emotionally fragile and in need of constant positive affirmation. Is this the case for grown women? Must we stand and applaud and shout “great kick” when, in truth, it was a very bad kick? Are women so pathetic that we have to call even their failures achievements? Not just achievements — but historic achievements? Is that how sad and mediocre women are, that we must stoop to this?
Answer: no. That’s how sad and mediocre feminists think women are, and perhaps are themselves. But it’s not the reality, and it’s not what I think or what any rational person thinks. Women are capable of extraordinary things in many facets of life. They also are capable of extraordinary things in the realm of athletics. Simone Biles comes immediately to mind. But women cannot compete with men in sports designed by and for men. They cannot do anything they set their mind to. Nobody can. They can do quite a lot within the bounds of possibility, but competing against and with men in a Division 1 football game is outside of those bounds. Contra Hillary Clinton, Fuller did not prove that women belong on every field. She proved the opposite. They don’t belong on a football field with men. And that’s okay. That doesn’t make them less than men. It just makes them not men. And there is dignity and beauty in accepting that.