Support Local News.

At a moment of historic disruption and change with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the calls for social and racial justice, there's never been more of a need for the kind of local, independent and unbiased journalism that The Day produces.
Please support our work by subscribing today.

Fuller deserves proportionate accolades

And so comes the news that Sarah Fuller of Vanderbilt, the first woman to appear in a Power Five college football game, has been named the Southeastern Conference's Co-Special Teams Player of the Week, joining Florida's Kadarius Toney, who returned a punt 50 yards for a touchdown over the weekend.

Fuller was on the field for the kickoff to begin the second half.

OK. Let's not be obtuse enough to apply the same surface level rules to the award winners. Clearly, a punt return for a touchdown moves the needle more than a mere kickoff. But Fuller's accomplishment deserves all the accompanying hosannas for its historical implications.

But can we at least attempt to do this in proportion?

Fuller is not the first woman to appear in a college football game. She is actually the least accomplished woman to appear in a college football game. New Mexico's Kate Hnida (2003) and Kent State's April Goss (2015) scored points as kickers in other Football Bowl Subdivision games.

Distinction: While New Mexico and Kent State occupy what we loosely translate as Division I programs, they're not members of Power Five conferences.

Makes you wonder: If Fuller is Co-Player of the Week for a kickoff, would the SEC have nominated her for the Nobel Prize if she kicked a 47-yarder to win the game?

Now I get the reactions this will trigger. Fuller's supporters will order me to undergo sensitivity training and say I just don't grasp the historical context. Her detractors will opt for "someone finally said it!" and dismiss her appearance in the game as a publicity stunt.

And you'd all be wrong.

We're at the heart of the women's sports revolution here in Connecticut. We've seen women do the extraordinary. We hold women to certain standards. Just ask Geno Auriemma. And so we know inspiring when we see it. What Fuller did was inspiring. It should stand on its own merit. Except that when we issue disproportionate levels of grandeur to it, her detractors get even more fodder.

Why is that so hard to grasp?

Fuller has hit all the right notes since Saturday. Her strong voice and strong will sent great messages not just to girls and women, but to anyone else who has been told they can't. Heck, I hope she keeps playing and gets a chance to kick extra points and field goals the rest of the season.

And if she does so, she'd deserve the proportionate accolades. Naming her the league's co-special teams player of the week is gratuitous. We get a lot of gratuitous now when it's wrapped in the safety of the underdog's tale.

I leave that possibility open that the underdog's lens shows a different picture. But wouldn't we be truly empowering women more by not being gratuitous?

Example: Would anyone be surprised if, for example, Diana Taurasi hit a few threes in an NBA game? Or if Fuller, a goalkeeper for the Vandy women's soccer team, pitched a shutout in goal for the men's soccer team, too? They're surely capable of doing so. And then their stories would bear even more significance.

I can't imagine (or sadly I probably can) what Fuller must be reading on social media. Some men are plenty proprietary about their sports, the less enlightened of whom grunt their views on Twitter. I just don't think naming Fuller the Co-Player of the Week for a cursory act of football moves the conversation forward.

I bet if you pay attention to life in general in the coming days you'll see numerous other examples of our failure to apply proper proportion to anything. There's the story, the reaction to it, the reaction to the reaction and soon, we're all walled off in our echo chambers yelling at each other again.

I applaud Sarah Fuller's chutzpah. Hope many others follow her and use her as inspiration. But let's be careful here with the kudos. They belong in the right context.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


Loading comments...
Hide Comments