They keep pulling her back in.
If you were parked in front of your flatscreen from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon and evening (as I was), an NFL commercial featuring a young girl with long hair and football cleats was urging viewers to "tell your story" by going to the NFL website. The commercial also showed her in grainy footage, in football gear, running away from boys twice her size on a football field.
Who was that? None other than Samantha "Sweet Feet" Gordon, the 10-year-old girl from South Jordan, Utah, who became a football phenomenon on her pee-wee youth league football team last season and ended up spending Super Bowl Sunday with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
This year, inspired by Gordon, the NFL is using her image to launch "Together We Make Football — Your Story," inviting players and fans of the game at all levels to share stories of why they love it.
"Last year, something extraordinary happened with this amazing little girl," said NFL Films supervising producer Keith Cossrow told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We want to find and celebrate the stories of everyone who loves football and is connected to the game in some way."
"Sweet Feet" learned to be a football player as a way to keep up with her big brother. As reported by the London Daily Mail, Sam's competitiveness has turned her into a star player in her local, all-boys football league in Utah, becoming one of the fastest children in the Salt Lake City area ‘Gremlins’ league as well as breaking and making tackles among the much bigger players. She even tackled a 150-pound boy named "Tank" who plays on her team. After being tackled, the boys "do"n't say much of anything. They just get up, brush themselves off, and walk away." she told Yahoo News.
With grade schoolers and teens in the mix, is it implausible to think that women could someday compete in the NFL?
Most people would say yes, it is impossible, especially with the the likelihood of concussions, brain injuries and long-term damage for all who play the game.
But that is the universal proposition for all football players, not just for women. And the NFL has voiced its commitment to making the game play safer and the equipment more protective.
I am equally as confident that girls, given the chance, will give it everything they have to be a part of this game.
Gordon took social media by storm. The novelty of a girl excelling in a traditional boys sport captivated the country, with millions of people viewing her video and celebrities wanting to meet her.
"She could cut and follow blocks like a college football player," her coach, Chris Staib, told yahoo.com.
Thanks to her father's postings on YouTube, which gathered millions of hits and caught the attention of the NFL, Gordon attended the Super Bowl this year as a guest of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and delivered scripted lines with Alec Baldwin in an NFL awards show, among other TV appearances. She also was pictured on a commemorative Wheaties box.
She also made a guest appearance on NFL Live, impressing the likes of jaded veteran Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and taking down Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. Then, Gordon was spirited away for a walk-through at the 49ers practice facility in Santa Clara shortly afterwards as they prepared for the Bears on Monday Night Football.
She even sat for a photo op with San Francisco 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh, himself a father of three daughters. With the 49ers' current 1-2 record after a Super Bowl season, I'd suggest that Harbaught ought to at least consider inviting Gordon back to a practice session, as he did during the 2012 season. What an inspiration she'd be to Colin Kaepernik, who could use all the help he could get.
I covered Harbaugh when he was with the Bears. Harbaugh, if you remember, was a quarterback at Michigan, a Bo Schembechler creation, who was molded in the Big 10 image of an All-American quarterback. Likely, the thought never crossed his mind about women playing in the NFL. I feel certain that the thought also hadn't occurred to his brother John, the Baltimore Ravens head coach.
If asked, however, I am speculating that Harbaugh will blush, smile, and say that while he was very impressed with the young Ms. Gordon, he can't imagine a day when women would be strong enough, or powerful enough, to compete in the NFL.
The legendary Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, who knows something about running routes and sidestepping brawny, outsized tacklers, tweeted,
"That video is impressive. Looks like I've found a girlfriend for my nine-year-old."
One current Bear, and one who should know about football from peewee to the pros, already has tweeted his approval. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, according to nbc.com, said on Twitter:
"Lil Sammy is a beast. Check her out."
According to the video that made her a YouTube sensation and brought her national attention, she rushed 232 times for 35 touchdowns and 1,911 yards, while adding in 65 tackles.
You can't argue with the numbers, even at age 9. She's outstanding. But her future may be limited. According to her father Brent, soccer is where her true passion lies. And Mia Hamm is her ultimate role model. Today, she plays soccer for a team in her hometown.
But let's look forward...say a decade from now. Samantha Gordon will be 20 years old. Possibly in college. Title IX means equal athletic scholarships for women, and maybe, she's the first girl ever to be offered a football scholarship, as a running back.
Here's how that happens: The new NFL safety rules and equipment have now made it possible for all individuals to play football safely, without the possibility of long-lasting damage to the brain or other vital organs. Women start competing more often at the highest levels of peewee football. The movement grows. And sooner or later, someone like Sam will break ranks and flourish.
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