NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It was an unprecedented week for Sarah Fuller.
The Vanderbilt women’s soccer goalie helped lead her team to an SEC Tournament Championship for the first time in 26 years last Sunday, and then followed it up by making history as the first female to play in a Power Five football game.
Despite the whirlwind of a week, Fuller managed to find time to share the moment.
“So that’s the heart of a woman, right? She completely shocked us with the news,” said Dr. Kimberly Clay, founder and CEO of Play Like A Girl, a Nashville-based non-profit working to level the playing field for girls by leveraging the skills gained from sport to propel young women into male-dominated careers.
Clay received a direct message on Instagram earlier this week from Fuller, expressing interest in putting the words “Play Like a Girl” on her helmet to raise awareness for the organization.
“[Sarah] had actually considered interning with us years ago and didn’t have the opportunity to do so, so she thought she would do something like this as a way to give back,” Clay said.
Fuller joked in her post-game Zoom press conference that she had to turn off her notifications or else her phone would die from the influx of texts and tweets.
Clay can relate. She says she has received about 300 emails with donations, inquiries and partnership opportunities, including licensed apparel and another sports league.
“It’s huge because we, like so many other non-profits, are small, but mighty,” said Clay. “It’s a two-woman team at Play Like a Girl. We’ve been impacted adversely as a result of COVID, so Sarah’s decision to share Play Like a Girl with the world over the last 24 hours has really been a boost in terms of donations.”
Vanderbilt football did not win today and Fuller did not get the opportunity to contribute more than a second half kickoff, but it doesn’t take away from the message – the same message Play Like a Girl aims to share.
“I thought about all the girls right now who are paying close attention to women who are breaking glass ceilings all over the place from politics to sport, so it’s not shocking. It’s just consistent with who we are as strong, bold women just doing what we do. I think it’s just important for the next generation to see what is possible when you go after your dream,” said Clay. “Part of what we’ve been messaging is this is the last generation of firsts and I truly believe it, and Sarah really helped advance that message today.”
Vanderbilt football head coach Derek Mason said after the game that Fuller could have said no to this opportunity, but instead she showed up and prepared just like everyone else.
“Sometimes it’s just the nature of showing up,” said Clay. “It’s the decision to go back and try it again that really makes the difference and opens doors for many behind you, and that’s today what Sarah represented for so many girls.”
Making history and going against the status quo is typically met with resistance, and Fuller is no exception. From the doubters to the naysayers, Clay says it’s all part of the journey.
“I started deleting some of the ugly comments, but I walked away at some point because I thought it was an important discourse that we have to continue the conversation. We’re going to keep showing up. That’s what strong women do. We need male allies and some of the naysayers will, at some point, join the team and that’s what’s important.”
By putting herself out there, Fuller’s life will never be the same and neither will the organization Play Like a Girl.
“It is so gratifying when unprompted at this time of year in very challenging circumstances that someone like Sarah would choose Play Like a Girl to elevate and share with the world.”
Continue reading for more information on the organization Play Like a Girl and how you can get involved.
Play Like a Girl just celebrated 16 years as an organization last month.
“It is a labor of love. It has been a lot of sacrifice from a lot of people. We operate on the hearts of volunteers who have, for countless years, committed their lives to this work and shared in the hard work that we put in. To hear our name mentioned and not be confused with something else, some other hashtag, but for it to truly be recognized for the important work that we’re doing.”
The work is all about exposing women to sports as a way to find economic stability and independence. The ability to play a sport doesn’t guarantee employment, but it sets you up for the tools necessary to get there. Play Like a Girl opens doors for girls in underrepresented fields like STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics).
“STEM jobs are the leading new jobs for girls and women, and it’s important for women to be recognized and in those careers because they are too, much like sport, where we are underrepresented. So again, it’s a cross-section of two important fields where women are under represented and now recognized for the winners we are.”
Clay says 94 percent of women in the C-suite played a sport and 56 percent of them played in college.