(ABC4) – At age nine, when Sam Gordon decided she wanted to play football, there weren’t very many female role models for her to look towards. Over the years, a handful of women — like Patricia Palinkas, Katie Hnida, and Abby Vestal — have made waves as women in football, but to date, the sport is largely male-dominated and male-associated.
But — as Gordon found after she first donned her pads, helmet, and cleats — the lack of representation in football is perhaps not tied to lack of interest.
“I started playing football with the boys when I was nine years old,” the now 19-year-old Herriman native remembers. “I played for three years with them, and during that whole time, I had a lot of girls who would come up to me and tell me that they wanted to play football, too.”
However, Gordon said that many of the other girls’ parents didn’t feel confident allowing their daughters to play with the boys, and some of the girls weren’t comfortable, either. So, Gordon set out to create opportunities to meet the demand.
“I’ve definitely had a very unique experience from some of the other girls just because I’ve grown up playing [football], but even with that, I found it difficult. It’s just difficult to be the only female in such a male-dominated space, especially in such a physical sport,” Gordon says. “But when I play with the girls, it’s something entirely different.”
In 2015, Gordon and her father founded the Utah Girls Tackle Football League, the first all-girls tackle football league in the United States. At first, the program had only about 50 participants, but it has grown significantly over the years and currently boasts 36 teams and 600 players.
And with that, Gordon too became a much-needed role model for women in football.
But starting the league was just the first step. Gordon and the other players soon realized that there were many other barriers to entry facing women pursuing the sport. Not only were they having a hard time finding venues to hold their games, they also found it difficult to outfit all the girls, being that football gear is designed and made with the male body in mind.
“Even though we’ve seen [the league] grow so much these past six seasons, it has been a challenge along the way,” Gordon says. “It’s been so difficult to get venues and to get gear for the girls and things like that.”
After noticing these disparities, Gordon set out to change them, too. First, she petitioned the Utah public school districts to create football teams for girls. After losing this bid, however, she found a different route: a partnership with flagship athletic brand, Under Armour.
Through the partnership, Gordon has secured opportunities for the girls’ teams to play at one of Utah’s most prestigious football venues: the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“They’re helping us get the opportunity to play underneath the Friday night lights,” she says. “I just know it’s going to be an amazing experience for the girls who make it to the championship.”
And, with Gordon’s help, the brand will also be releasing the first-ever football cleat designed for women.
“I wore soccer cleats, personally, throughout my whole time playing. I know other girls wore soccer and baseball cleats,” Gordon remembers. “I can’t wait to go out and see all the girls playing together wearing that cleat and feeling like we’re meant to play in the sport.”
“Our ultimate goal is to increase equity in sports. It’s an ambitious quest, but an incredibly important one that builds on our shared values, years of work and UA’s long-term commitment to break down barriers and create opportunities for millions of youth to engage in sports by 2030,” said Sean Eggert, SVP of global sports marketing at Under Armour, of the partnership. “With Sam Gordon, we’re working to establish pathways for aspiring female football players of all ages to have the same access as young boys and men interested in the sport. We want to give everyone a fair shot at playing the game.”
And even with all the positive changes brought about by the partnership, Gordon still isn’t done. She has big dreams for the future of women’s football.
“I don’t think there’s any reason that women’s football should be any different than men’s football,” she says. “I know it’s definitely very ambitious and it will be a challenge along the way, but I want to see women’s football in college, I want them to have the same opportunities to get scholarships and become coaches and to have a professional league.”