Sam Gordon has spent the past decade advocating for women and girls to play football. Now, Under Armour joins her in the fight for women’s football equity.
In 2012, a nine-year-old Sam Gordon tore up the field in her local Utah PeeWee Football League, logging 35 touchdowns and 65 tackles as she terrorized on both sides of the ball.
What made Sam different was that she was a nine-year-old girl, and her ability to play football challenged the antiquated notion that girls don’t play the game. But Sam, like many female football players in the past, didn’t have an opportunity to play past children’s leagues.
So Sam Gordon made her own.
In her home state of Utah, Gordon formed the first all-girls tackle football league in the nation, which earned her the NFL Honors’ Game Changer Award.
Now, Gordon has brought the game she loves to hundreds of Utah girls as her tackle league grows, proving what Gordon and fellow women’s footballers have known for decades: women love to play football, too.
Under Armour, a company known for endorsing athletes that catalyze social change, has partnered with Sam Gordon to “establish a pathway for aspiring female athletes of all ages to be able to compete in American football so that the next generation of girls can play.”
Here are the ways in which Under Armour is using its resources to equip Gordon with the tools she needs to share the game she loves with girls everywhere.
- Sam and UA will host two UA Next football camps for girls in Mission Viejo and Sam’s hometown of Salt Lake City, where she will guide programming and mentor the young women alongside former NFL coaches and current female football coaches like Mickey Grace and Tammy Moore.
- Sam is helping UA launch the brand’s first-ever women’s football cleats: the Women’s UA Blur Cleat hitting shelves in March and the Women’s UA Spotlight Cleat set to go on sale in Spring 2023.
- UA is now the official sponsor of the Utah Girls Tackle Football League, providing apparel and gear for the league’s 600 players, and giving the league’s 36 teams the opportunity to play at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, so they can play under the lights just like the boys.
FanSided had the opportunity to catch up with Sam Gordon, an avid athlete who now plays soccer as a freshman at Columbia University
What is your first football memory?
My family was always a football family. I know we all threw the ball around constantly, but my first real football memory is playing at recess against the boys. I remember thinking of it like sharks and minnows, still excited to prove myself against the other boys. I remember juking out the other team, and celebrating with mine when I scored. I’ve loved football for a long time.
I read that your brother’s coach is the person who encouraged you to play football. Was playing football already a dream of yours, or did having someone recognize your aptitude make you realize your potential?
My brother’s coach encouraged me to get started, but my dad has been my biggest champion through it all. It wasn’t necessarily a dream of mine to play football specifically, but I wanted to play all sports as a kid, so why not football? Having my brother’s coach catalyze the process and my dad’s support every step of the way has led me to where I am now: working with Under Armour to get more girls involved in football.
What’s the support been like from your family and community?
My family and community have always been supportive of my decisions and my dreams. It’s gotten me to where I am today and I couldn’t have done it without them. They push me to break down barriers, which has resulted in so many amazing accomplishments, like working with Under Armour! Together, we’re working to increase equity in sport and give more female athletes access to football.
When I interviewed the women on Team Milk, most of them played football with boys but had to stop at high school because there was no football program for women, but you’ve changed that for girls your age. What did it mean for your teammates, and what did it mean for you, when you realized that you didn’t have to stop playing?
I’m so glad you asked that question. Three years after I started playing tackle football with the boys, my dad and I set out to give more girls the opportunity to play. We knew there was interest, the issue was a lack of access. So in 2015, we formed the country’s first all-girls tackle football league, the Utah Girls Tackle Football league. And in just six seasons, the league has grown from 50 participants to over 600.
Creating this league and watching it grow has been an absolute honor. Especially now that we have the support of Under Armour. As an official sponsor of the league, Under Armour will not only provide players with apparel, but also help give participants the chance to play like the boys–under some Friday night lights at the University of Utah. THAT’S the dream right there! There’s absolutely nothing like playing under the lights, and I’m so glad more girls will now have the opportunity to do so.
You changed the game for girls your age across America, but going to college presents another barrier: there is not an NCAA league for women’s football. How would you like to see that change?
I see no reason for women’s football to be any different than men’s football. Female athletes deserve the same opportunities: camps, pee wee to high school to NCAA programs, a funnel to a professional league. I’m committed to helping create it via the work I’m doing with Under Armour. For instance, we’re hosting UA Next football camps for high school girls and we just launched Under Armour’s first-ever women’s football cleats – the Women’s UA Blur Cleat – together!
It’s the 50th anniversary of Title IX, and women’s football is the most glaring example that women do not receive the same athletic opportunities as men. Do you think that a lack of women’s football programs at schools and universities is a violation of Title IX? How can institutions rectify this?
I do. Last year, a few teammates and I unsuccessfully challenged the Utah High School Athletic Association to have women’s tackle football sanctioned as a sport. That decision is now being appealed.
[Editorial Note: The federal judge presiding over this case reasoned that “Utah school districts aren’t legally required to create a separate team because girls who want to play football can play with the teams traditionally filled with boys.”]
The massive gap in participation opportunities between boys and girls is solely due to boys’ football. Equality in athletics can never be achieved without separate girls football teams. At the end of the day, women and girls deserve the same opportunities as men and boys, especially when it comes to sports. I’m going to continue fighting for that until we have it.
What’s a surprising misconception you’ve encountered about women playing football?
The biggest misconception about women playing football is that they don’t want to. Which is entirely false — there are so many women who want to play the sport but are discouraged because they don’t have the opportunity. That’s what Under Armour and I are working to solve: to increase access to the sport and establish pathways for aspiring female football players of all ages.
Do you still play football [in college]? If so, how?
Because I’m in school and a student-athlete, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to play football. That said, I practice and play in student leagues when I get the chance!
What would you like to accomplish during college and after graduation?
I really just want to continue fighting to make football more accessible for female athletes. I started when I was nine and see no reason to slow down, especially now that I have the support of Under Armour. I hope to one day see women’s football leagues across all levels of play, more female coaches and refs in the sport…That’s what I want my legacy to be. When people hear my name, I want them to think: ‘Oh, yeah. She changed the game for women in football.’