Remember Sam Gordon? Of course you do. The Utah youth football sensation sprinted and bulldozed her way to national prominence as a nine-year-old in 2012. Two years later she continued her rise as a star for a Utah youth football league before spearheading the development of a girls-only league to encourage more of her female classmates to try out tackle football.
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Gordon is now 14, and she’s desperate to continue playing football despite her diminutive stature; she’s was still the smallest player among her youth football league during her eighth grade season.
The latest initiative to keep girls football alive comes in the form of a lawsuit filed by the Gordon family and five other plaintiffs who have joined together to sue three different school districts in the Salt Lake City area to force them to offer female football as a varsity sport. The Title IX-based lawsuit was filed Friday on the 45th anniversary of Title IX’s passage.
Sam Gordon’s father, Brent Gordon, spoke to Yahoo Sports’ Eric Adelson and noted the consistent growth exhibited by the girls football youth league that he started with other parents; Gordon said total participants in the league have grown from 50 to 200 members, and expressed confidence that there was sufficient demand for a league to be supported near Utah’s capital city.
“As soon as we started it up – we had 50 girls and we capped it because it’s expensive to buy the equipment – I started getting emails and texts saying, ‘My daughter’s never played sports before and this has changed her life.’ ” Brent Gordon told Yahoo. “If our rec league has had growth over three years, our expectation is that a heck of a lot more girls would want to play for a high school team.”
While the elder Gordon may have a case regarding passion-driven participation among female athletes, a provision of Title IX may undercut the legal argument being made by he and his fellow plaintiffs. Title IX includes a “contact sport exemption” which is designed to ease the burden on schools to offer equal opportunities in full contact sports. Some have argued that the development of girls ice hockey and other contact sports shows that Title IX’s intent has expanded to include contact sports, though there has been no official legal shift to accommodate that.
Whether Gordon and her fellow plaintiffs are successful remains to be seen. If nothing else, their attempt to establish an officially sanctioned girls tackle football league is a benchmark moment for women in the sport. Just don’t tell the teens that’s accomplishment enough.
“It’s not a publicity stunt,” says their lawyer, Loren Washburn. “We want a change in the sporting landscape.”