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Midweek Musing: “Love seeing these barriers being broken, in any place.”

Sarah Fuller’s big moment resonates far beyond the football field.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not always a good thing to be the national story.

When you’re a program that no one talks about, sometimes it’s better to stay that way. You could argue that Vanderbilt wishes that they hadn’t been hit so hard by COVID that they were left with no choice but to turn to their SEC Championship winning women’s soccer program to find a kicker for their matchup with Mizzou Saturday — especially when you consider the results of the game.

If adding Sarah Fuller to the roster was a publicity stunt, boy howdy did they blow it.

But, the score of Saturday’s 41-0 loss to Missouri isn’t the story, and it shouldn’t be. The fact that a woman suited up for a Power Five team, one in the SEC no less, is meaningful, no matter how many ray ban wearing men in trucker hats tell us otherwise.

It is incredibly difficult to be a woman covering sports, even for a small potatoes person like myself covering a university that has a smallish fan base and most people don’t think about until they do something really special. I have been harassed, called names, told to get back in the kitchen, told I’m not a good writer or I don’t know anything BECAUSE I NEVER PLAYED THE GAME (generally by people whose skill sets topped out at JV ball, but whatever), and again — I just cover TCU.

For national reporters and personalities, it gets much worse; the sexual harassment and misogynistic comments in the replies and DMs are not only disgusting but disturbing, and god help anyone that looks at the comments on facebook... just beyond distasteful and concerning. So you can only imagine what social media brought us when Sarah Fuller joined Vanderbilt Football, when she executed the second half kick-off (a DESIGNED squib kick), or when she was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Let’s just take a look:

And even from our own fanbase, in the facebook comments from an article that featured a Garret Wallow quote about the moment:

And before you get after me for not marking out the names... these people told on themselves In a public forum.

It’s interesting to me that these armchair warriors want to do so much complaining, while the coaches and athletes that actually compete at the Division I level seem to find what she accomplished to be an overwhelmingly positive thing. Whether it was a female athlete like TCU Basketball graduate transfer Aahliyah Williams, who called the moment “inspiring” or a Power Five coach like Gary Patterson, who said it was “neat that she wanted to and great that Vanderbilt allowed her to”, the reaction from people that frankly actually matter, was pretty great. “That’s awesome,” TCU linebacker Garret Wallow said when hearing the news after his team defeated Kanas Saturday evening. “You really don’t see that on this level. You kinda see it in park ball, but to see it at this level is amazing. Especially seeing a woman go out there and doing what a guy can do at the same level is amazing to see.” Raegan Pebley, TCU’s head women’s basketball coach, found it to be a bright spot in an otherwise crazy year. “2020,” Pebley laughed. “We all can say plenty of negative things, and it’s fair criticism, but also there's a momentum that's been building for years — Title IX, diff women running for office — winning office — female CEOs.” She went on to address what playing a collegiate sport, any sport, means for a female’s success in the boardroom. “Something like 70% of female CEOs played college sports. It’s been building for a while, awesome to see.”

Barriers are being broken, and not in the name of publicity — but because the barrier breakers are good at their job.

Patterson mentioned that she must be a pretty good soccer player, and knew that she was transferring to North Texas to do her graduate work and play goalie for the Mean Green. “If she can make her team better, then it’s great that she could do that,” he said. Jackson knows that people like Fuller, those that are breaking through in significant coaching and front office roles across the NBA and NFL, and others that are being “the firsts” are making it better for the next generation. “There’s a lot going on for women in our society that is really encouraging and inspiring. Females feel like they can't do that role and she proved that we can.” And Pebley knows that the leadership being shown by women in traditionally male-dominated areas is just the tip of the iceberg. “Our leadership, female leadership, looks today very different than what was expected ten years ago. Love seeing these barriers being broken, in any place.”

While Fuller was the biggest name to show up on the football field, she wasn’t the only one:

Brownson is Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski’s chief of staff.

“I think she’s a go-getter,” Stefanski said upon Brownson’s appointment back in January. “She’s self-motivated. She’s going to put all of her energy into this gig. What’s exciting for me is ultimately I want to develop young coaches. She’s someone that has worked on the offensive side of the ball, worked on special teams, has a great knowledge of the game and I want to let her expand that knowledge and develop her as a head coach.”

That’s the talk of a person who hired a woman in a traditionally male role because she was the best candidate for the job, not to get more girls to buy more pink football jerseys.

Oh, and in case you weren’t sure if Fuller’s kick was actually a good kick, read this by Alex Kirschner of Moon Crew, from their weekly newsletter:

1. Sarah Fuller, by Alex

The goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s soccer team joined the football team when it needed a kicker. She became the first woman to appear in a Power 5 game.

That alone is a momentous achievement, but let’s also be clear about something: Her kickoff was good.

You can watch it here. To start the second half, Fuller sent a squib kick bouncing up the right side of Missouri’s field. The Tigers fell on it at their own 35.

It was a designed squib from the start, with Vandy’s coverage men funneling toward the spot where the ball died on the right sideline.

Vandy even had two guys offside running toward where the ball was to be kicked, perhaps trying to get an early jump on a recovery, and Derek Mason (who was fired the day after the game because Vanderbilt is bad) confirmed the squib was the plan.

Mizzou fell on it, but the ball was a low bouncer that easily could’ve become a fumble, which might have resulted in Vandy’s biggest play of the whole day. It was an exemplary effort for someone who’d started playing football two hours earlier.

Of course, Mizzou wound up with fine field position, and the kick wasn’t a howitzer through the end zone, so some of the worst people in the world pretended they’d never seen a squib kick before and acted like Fuller had committed a disaster. If you want to see what an actual disaster on a short kickoff looks like, just watch Texas Tech’s men try one the same day.

Let’s end on a note/reminder that a lot of folks apparently need: