This past weekend the news media was busy reporting on Sarah Fuller becoming the first female to play in a Power Five football game. It seems that Vanderbilt, which is 0-8, needed a kicker so the coach asked a senior soccer player if she would kick against Missouri. Ms. Fuller did, and her second half kickoff was what we used to call “a squib”. It covered about 35 yards. After she kicked she jogged directly over to the  Vanderbilt sideline instead of staying on the field to help cover any runback. Later Ms. Fuller explained to news outlets that her participation showed that no female should ever doubt what could be accomplished.

I applaud Ms. Fuller for stepping up to help her college’s football team. She even spoke to the team during halftime. She was asked and she did the best she could. But what does her appearance in the game mean for female aspirations? Is her appearance, the fourth time for a female in college football, a gauge for female success? I doubt that.

When women use participation in men sports as a measuring stick for equality, such as a female kicking in a college football game or men’s soccer game, they allow male domination to continue. I suggest that there is little advancement for a “level playing field” made when women celebrate such participation. Young Fuller’s participation on the field against Missouri was not level. It was not equal because she is not capable of competing against the Missouri players, nor should she be able to. At that level, male players are much bigger and stronger, even the opposing kickers.

In the late 1990’s I was the track and field coach at an all-girls’ high school in D.C. We used the track at our “brother school”, and the coach of the boys’ school was a good friend. We decided to combine our teams since we all were on the track at the same time. Little did I know how the girls and their school would react to this news. For days I was questioned concerning my decision and often was told, “We can’t compete with the boys, coach,” or “How do you expect the girls to feel about competing with the boys?” After many conversations explaining that the girls were not competing with the boys but were practicing with them, we were able to proceed with the merger. I also reminded the girls that they would be able to do the workouts with some of the boys and to use them as motivators. In fact, the older girls soon savored the fact that they could outperform some of the younger boys in workouts. Before that first season was over, the girls and boys saw each other as teammates, not competitors because each knew that no playing field can ever be level, but the field of an opportunity must be. Each of those track and field athletes was given the chance to compete in a just arena to do his or her best.

This past week a new United States female record for ten miles was set. In Washington, DC, a 36-year-old real estate agent, mother of two, and wife broke the old record by 49 seconds. Keira D’Amato, an un-sponsored runner, broke the record set six years by former Olympian Janet Bawcom at the 2014 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. You do the math for her time of 51:23 and figure her average mile time. For me, when I road raced at her age, I never ran even one mile as fast as D’Amato averaged for those ten miles.

The United States women’s soccer team defeated the Netherlands recently by a 2-0 score. While that is good news, I think there is more to celebrate in that game when Kristie Mewis came in as a second-half substitute and scored in the 70th minute. It was Mewis’ second score for the U.S. team. Her first came in 2013. Imagine waiting over 2700 days to play again and to even score in such a high level of sport.

Women sports offer females a multitude of opportunities to compete. Yes, at certain levels, such as in youth sports, the sexes are combined for expedient’s sake, such as in wrestling, running, or football. And at that level, girls will often outperform boys. But eventually the sexes separate, and we must ensure that the opportunity to compete is equalized. A female kicker, running back, or point guard at the age of ten is not the same as her at the age of twenty. Nor should it be. Let’s level and maintain that opportunity but leave the kick-off to the boys.

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