Vanderbilt senior kicker Sarah Fuller made history on Saturday, becoming the first woman to play on the field in a Power 5 college football game, during the second-half kickoff against the Missouri Tigers. However, recent reports about what happened at halftime before her history-making kick have some believing that her presence on the field may have had more to do with publicity than football.
ESPN reporter Courtney Cronin tweeted on Sunday that she had just ended a Zoom interview with Fuller, where the history-making kicker detailed her halftime locker room speech. “I had coaches come up to me and say ‘I’ve been wanting to say that for awhile now,'” Fuller reportedly said:
I just got off a Zoom call with Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller, who detailed the halftime speech she gave and the reception it received.
"I had coaches come up to me and say 'I’ve been wanting to say that for awhile now,'" Fuller said. pic.twitter.com/AjoEEjJbeh
— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) November 29, 2020
Fuller reportedly said to her new teammates:
If I’m going to be honest, I was a little pissed off at how quiet everybody was on the sideline. … 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, and I was like, ‘You guys need to start [cheering] your team on.’
My main thing was during the SEC tournament, my entire team was cheering the entire time. It didn’t matter if we were in the locker room or if they were on the sidelines, I think that’s what won it for us. Everybody was cheering non-stop. 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 by calling each other out for stuff, and I’m going to call you guys out.’
We need to be supporting one another. If we get a first down, if an interception happens, it’s our fault. We need to be lifting each other up. That’s what a team’s about. 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.
Some took issue with Fuller’s locker room speech in particular. Joe Kinsey from Outkick questioned Fuller’s and Vanderbilt’s intent:
If you were on the fence about whether Vanderbilt using soccer goalie Sarah Fuller as a fill-in kicker for Saturday’s game against Missouri was a publicity stunt or a necessity, you got your answer on Sunday when it was announced that Fuller had given a halftime speech to her new teammates. Keep in mind, Fuller hadn’t yet stepped foot on the field for her kickoff before giving this speech.
As for this speech, you mean to tell me that a kicker who was pulled off the women’s soccer team and who started practicing with the football team on Tuesday was given the floor to lecture teammates on Saturday?”
“Do you think freshman players on the women’s soccer team who’ve never seen the field get up and give speeches to players who’ve given four years to a program? Nope. Not happening,” Kinsey said.
Responses to Cronin’s tweet also questioned the validity of Vanderbilt’s intentions, with one person saying, “I’m all for her kicking, but this is absurd. Imagine a male walk on kicker of any sort showing up 7 games into the season, not even kicking yet, then lecturing the team about not cheering hard enough bc that’s what they did on his soccer team.”
I'm all for her kicking, but this is absurd. Imagine a male walk on kicker of any sort showing up 7 games into the season, not even kicking yet, then lecturing the team about not cheering hard enough bc that's what they did on his soccer team.
— Jackie Chiles (@ChilesJackie) November 29, 2020
Another response read, “I mean man or woman, what gives a soccer player who’s been on the team 3 days the RIGHT to stand up and call out players. Imagine being a senior in this locker room. What gives her the authority to do this? Especially a kicker?? Nah.. this ain’t it.”
I mean man or woman, what gives a soccer player who's been on the team 3 days the RIGHT to stand up and call out players. Imagine being a senior in this locker room. What gives her the authority to do this? Especially a kicker?? Nah.. this ain't it.
— Aaron Kizer (@AaronKizer53) November 29, 2020
Others supported Fuller’s place on the team as a needed move for Vanderbilt. Radio host Pat McAfee said, “She was not out asking for this.. An opportunity presented itself,” and that it was not a publicity stunt:
I don't think @SarahFuller_27 becoming the first woman to kick for a Power 5 school was a publicity stunt.
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) November 30, 2020
Fuller had a response to her critics during a recent interview. When host Holly Rowe asked Fuller how she handles her critics, Fuller took it in stride, saying, “At this point, like, what are you doing? You know? I am a [Division 1] soccer player. I’m going to Vanderbilt University. I’m getting my degree from here. I’ve done amazing things,” she said:
Hear @sarahfuller_27 on the crazy reactions
-speaking to team at halftime
-how NEVER QUITTING led her to this historic moment for @vandyfootball @espnw @espncfb
Photo credits: Vanderbilt Athletics pic.twitter.com/njDDGodX1I
— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) November 29, 2020
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said on Wednesday, “Right now, we’re just looking at all options. … For us, talking to Sarah, she’s a champ, and no pun intended. Just coming off an SEC Championship in soccer… She’s a complete competitor. She’s an option for us. Right now, that’s where we sit.
“For us, every week is [about] getting to the practice field and about making sure that we put the best possible kicker out there, so we’re competing,” Mason said.
Two other women, Katie Hnida of New Mexico and April Goss of Kent State, have played football at the FBS level. The Power 5 conferences consist of teams from the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Pac 12. Vanderbilt is a member of the SEC.