12-Year-Old Sam Gordon Redefines “Play Like a Girl”

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Sam and her all girls squad on their first day in pads playing full tackle (Photo: Instagram)

Sam Gordon first tried out for an all-boys tackle football team when she was 9-years-old. In her first season on the team, she scored over 25 touchdowns and averaged 8.2 yards a carry — this might not mean much to the average beauty reader, but it’s incredible! Her father posted a highlight reel on YouTube in that same year and it went viral garnering over 3 million views in a week. Gordon went on to be the first female football player featured on a Wheaties box, was invited by the NFL to the Super Bowl and pro-bowl, wrote a book with her neighbor about her experiences playing football. She became the inspiration for every young girl to go out and challenge gender stereotypes.

Fueled by the support of her family and coach, the sixth grader continues to play tackle football with the boys, play on a competitive soccer team, and go to school. Her dreams are set on playing for an Olympic Gold Medal with the US Women’s Soccer team and I think she might do just that. I talked with her about how she got her start and her hopes for the future.  

Tara Tersigni: Can you take me through what got you into football in the first place?

Sam Gordon: I’ve always been playing with my brother or friends at recess, but after my soccer practices I would always go and watch my brother during his football practices. At the end, they do some wind sprints and I always asked my dad if I could do it with them, and I’d do it. I would beat the boys in my brother’s team even though they were three years older than me. After a while, the coach started making a challenge about it, like “Who can beat Gordon’s sister?” And one practice he came up to me and said, “I’ve seen a lot of good football players and I think you can be a great one.” And that’s how I got the idea.

Is it that coach that helped inspire you and give you the confidence to start playing?

Yes, it was always fun to play two-hand touch football, but he gave me the idea to go and play tackle football.

How soon after that did you suit up and play with the boys?

I asked my dad if I could play football with the boys and he said it was okay. Once the season was over it took a whole other year before the next tryout, so when I was 9 years old, I had my first football tryout.

And you were the only girl?

There was one other girl at my try out from my age group, and another girl who was three years older than me, so in another age group. But I was the only girl on my team.

Your parents were never worried about you playing with the boys or getting hit really hard by a boy?

My dad was never worried. At least he never showed it to me, about me getting hurt.

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Sam and her family at the Super Bowl (Photo @Sam_Gordon6)

I really like that too. When you started playing, did any part of your daily life change after that? Did you have to adjust your training and how you ate, or did you keep doing your normal routine?

The things that changed the most were my schedule of the week. Football is five days a week, two hours each day for the first month or two, and then it’s three days a week for two hours. That was definitely a change of how much I was doing things. I had to get my homework done a lot quicker. At school, I made friends with some of the boys on my team. But that’s the only changes I really had with football.

What’s your schedule like now? As you’re getting older and it’s getting more competitive, it must be even busier?

Right now, the football season hasn’t started yet. It will start in a few months. When that starts, it will probably be around the same thing. But if you miss a practice or something, you will be in big trouble with the coach and you will probably not play the game. Now I also have competitive soccer, and I’m playing in the girls’ tackle football league right now so I have one or two days off the league which is pretty nice and then the rest of the days I get to do the other sports.

Did you help start the girls tackle football league?

I was speaking at a school assembly and I asked the question “How many girls here would want to play tackle football?” and almost every hand in the room that was a girl shot up. It made me think, “Wow, if there are that many girls in one school that want to play tackle football, how many are there in all of Utah?” My dad got the same idea, and he talked to these girls who were thinking about starting a league. I sort of helped promote it a little bit by having girls say, “If Sam Gordon is doing this, maybe I should try it too.” That’s how it started.

It sounds like you get a lot of confidence from your parents and your coach to feel good about being a girl in a typically male sport.

My parents are super supportive, and really awesome with me being a girl so that’s probably where I get all my confidence.

Did you ever think to yourself “I am a girl, I shouldn’t be doing this” or did that thought never cross your mind?

The thought that I shouldn’t be doing this never really crossed my mind, but it was a little weird when I got to the field and all the boys were like, “Oh my gosh there is a girl here.” They started to chant, “Beat the girl, beat the girl” and that made me think, “Wow these boys are really surprised that there is a girl here.”

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Sam and her soccer team after a big win (Photo @Sam_Gordon6)

Are there any other women or men, athletes or anyone that you look up to when you’re having a tough moment, when you think “If this person did that, I’m going to keep on going”?

I’ve never really had to stop and look up to an athlete and think, “They did this, I need to keep on going.” But my favorite people are Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, who play for the US women national soccer team. They are both super tough and never stop trying. Those are the people I would look up to if I ever had a problem.

Do you think you are going to continue playing? Do you have long term plans to play through high school? It sounds like you are very passionate about soccer too.

I’m going to keep playing football for as long as I can. Either until the boys get too big, because I’m really short and they could basically just crush me; or with soccer, if it gets too serious, because my dream is to play soccer for the US national team and win an Olympic gold medal in the World Cup. So, I would definitely stop football to play soccer, but I want to continue playing football for as long as I can.

You are 12-years-old, you’re at such an interesting age for a girl in discovering their style, and beauty. But at the same time you’re so dedicated to sports. Do you have a way to balance the two?

I was never really into picking out the right clothes and what goes together, I sort of just put on clothes. I like comfortable clothes rather than stylish clothes. But whenever I see an awesome shirt or outfit, I would like to wear it. At school, I just wear my normal clothes and then when I get back, I change into my workout clothes to go do whatever I’m going to do.

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Sam at the beach, hair in her favorite pony (Photo @Sam_Gordon6)

What do you do with your hair?

My mom has actually gotten mad about me doing this, but I like to put my hair in a ponytail and I’ve been doing that everyday of school. Now I have to put it down a little bit more. And when I get into middle school, I’m going to try to learn more hairstyles so I can actually do things with my hair.

You can always call us at YB if you need any recommendations! Well, I really appreciate you taking your free time to talk to me. You’re an awesome kid.

Thank you!