Nearly five years ago, Sam Gordon went viral, taking the country by storm with a YouTube highlight reel of her embarrassing young boys on a football field. It was a striking visual—a girl with a ponytail slicing her way through an offensive line and dicing her way through the opposing defense. Gordon became an instant hit and had television appearances on Conan, Good Morning America and NFL Network while also landing her own Wheaties box.
Now 14 years old and entering her freshman year of high school, Gordon doesn’t want to stop playing football. The only problem is her high school doesn’t have a football team.
So Brent Gordon, Sam’s father and a lawyer, came up with a solution: file a Title IX lawsuit to force the local school districts to offer girls’ football in her county of Salt Lake, Utah, submitting the papers on the 45th anniversary of Title IX.
“Girls can do anything the boys can do,” Sam says. “We can hit just as hard, we can run just as fast, we can throw just as far. Having a girls' tackle football team would be an amazing addition to high school sports.”
The suit follows up on the success of the local recreational league the Gordons helped kick-start just two years ago. Immediately the league started with 50 girls playing competitively, and it grew to nearly 200 in a short time. The interest generated by the league locally, Brent says, will serve as the backbone for the lawsuit.
“We look at the girls rec league and 105 of the girls who participated will be eligible to play high school next spring,” Brent says. “In the entire state of Utah, there were only 10 girls who played on boys' high school football teams. We will be able to show when they have the opportunity to play against other girls, that there are 10 times [the number of girls who want to] play.”
The rec league is a start, and given football’s stronghold in American high schools, an appeal to make the sport available to girls should garner support. But as with any football league, there are going to be concerns, including those about safety and equipment cost. Fourteen girls, the lawsuit says, will be required to field a viable team, though Brent and Sam both don’t seem concerned about getting enough players.
“For girls who are afraid to play football or don’t feel like it’s the type of things that they should do, I think it’s time for us to be trailblazers and take away the stereotype that girls can’t play football,” Sam says. “They should believe in themselves to do anything they want to do.”
The success of the rec league proved to Brent that interest in football is there with girls, despite the lack of opportunity. A similar situation occurred in Utah in 2008 when skepticism rose about local interest in girls’ golf, only to be rebutted when hundreds of girls signed up.
“The opportunity’s been denied. It hasn’t been until schools were forced to give opportunity, and the girls demonstrated that they wanted to play,” Brent says. “These schools are trying to use their own discrimination against girls to say there is no interest. We’ve never had a girls' football team, and we’ve never provided equal participation opportunity. You created the lack of girls playing football by discriminating against them in the first place.”
Sam’s life outside the gridiron has changed since her highlight reel went viral, but she doesn’t want to change her life on it. She hopes that with the lawsuit, girls playing football will no longer be an anomaly.
“It’s eye-opening to see how much support we can get in a thing like this,” Sam says. “Women and people are out there wanting girls to succeed in this world.”