Answering questions comes with being a parent. At first, it’s young minds trying to grasp concepts such as why it takes so long to arrive at a destination or why the sky is blue, etc. But as those children grow, the questions become tougher and more serious.
My 11-year-old J.D. came to me with one of those questions this week. He had seen the vitriol and hate that was spewed on social media toward Vanderbilt soccer keeper-turned-placekicker Sarah Fuller.
“Why are they so mad at her, Dad?,” J.D. asked matter of factly.
Now, J.D. may be just 11 and a sixth grader, but he’s not like his dad was growing up on the 1980s. J.D. has seen all kinds of judgment and hate directed at groups already. He’s not naïve enough to think that people are actually nice to one another. He knows he lives in a “roasting” culture. Just a few weeks in at school, he wore a George Kittle 49ers jersey and a kid promptly came up to him and said, “The 49ers suck.”
So, he knows this is a tough world that is unfiltered in a much more real way than I did at his age. Sadly, he expects a negative reaction toward former NFL player and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick.
However, he still wasn’t sure why a female kicker in the SEC would trigger grown men to lose their minds.
“They are ignorant. They don’t understand how cool of an achievement that is, like you do,” I said.
J.D. is a goal keeper and so he loves keepers (and most soccer players), and he loves kickers. He thought it was awesome that now-former Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason took a chance on Fuller. While she only kicked the ball a little more than 30 yards on her only kickoff, J.D. knew she could probably kick it farther but understood she was instructed to ‘pooch’ it.
“I wanted [Vanderbilt] to score, so she could make an extra-point,” he said.
Even before Fuller suited up, the chauvinists took to social media to mock her. It only got worse when she didn’t put the kickoff into the end zone.
I saw multiple posts on threads that joked about sexual assault, rooting for her to get injured and other extremely lewd, distasteful and downright hateful nonsense.
It just makes me sad. Sad for Fuller, sad for my kids that in 2020, this kind of trash is prevalent. Read any television news social media post, and you find the dregs of society using profanity, hate speech and an array of other inappropriate behavior. I remember a time that those kids of comments would only be reserved for the darkest of places. Certainly, it wouldn’t be in public and as a middle schooler, I wouldn’t haven’t been subject to it. For all of the good things that come from social media, there are so many negatives including “Keyboard Cowboys” who slur others in a way that they wouldn’t to someone’s face. It’s a bad trend and is only getting worse.
It’s important for those that know better to stand up and be heard in these instances, and I hope both of my boys will follow my lead. Regardless of what a few simpletons say, Fuller’s playing in that 41-0 loss to Missouri was history-making. It was worthy of an elite conference such as the SEC making her the Special Teams Player of the Week. She is the first woman to play in a Power 5 game. I am glad she got the chance, and I hope somewhere little girl soccer players are also kicking footballs.
Arkansas has seen two girls make significant contributions at the prep level in recent years. Savana Melton was a consistent placekicker at North Little Rock and appeared in a state title game. Pulaski Academy’s Savannah Goodwin was a weapon for the Bruins last season executing onside kicks helping the team to the Class 5A State Championship. PA Coach Kevin Kelley was elated the Division I soccer prospect Goodwin would entertain the idea of football.
I hope this online sentiment is the vocal minority. We don’t need this attitude in our country. Athletes are athletes. I have covered so many girls who are tremendous performers. Many of them deserve more recognition. It’s a fundamental problem that their male counterparts get more press and accolades.
Fuller took the shots to pave the way. She gained attention and shined a light on female athletes. It didn’t get the reaction it should have, at least from some. Maybe that kickoff will be the push we need to break down the walls of inequality for women in athletics.
“I still can’t believe people would say those things about her,” J.D. said. “I feel sorry for them.”
Image courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics