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Girl testifies she felt disrespected when playing football

Sophia Eppolito
Associated Press/report For America

Salt Lake City – A Utah teenager who was the only girl on her school’s football team says she was forced to change in the boys’ locker room at away games and often faced discriminatory treatment by her coach and teammates, she said in federal court Tuesday.

Laura Goetz, 16, said she felt excluded and degraded during the two years she played football at West Jordan High School. She testified Tuesday as part of a lawsuit filed by viral football star Sam Gordon that aims to give girls the chance to play football on female-only high school teams.

In this April 25, 2019 photo, female football player Sam Gordon walks the NFL D raft red carpet in Nashville, Tenn. Opening arguments in a lawsuit brought by Gordon pushing to compel the state to create all-girls football teams at high schools were heard in federal court Tuesday.

Goetz said one coach insisted on calling her “princess,” and that when she was a captain her sophomore year some of her teammates ripped up her headshot and left the pieces under the team’s display case.

“They don’t like me,” Goetz said she thought at the time. “They make sure I understand that, and that I don’t belong there.”

Coaches, teammates and some school administrators would often refer to the sport as “boys football,” Goetz said. She said the coaches emphasized the importance of becoming men, and the team would chant “brotherhood” during games and practices.

Goetz said she felt left out so she erased the word “brotherhood” from a team whiteboard and wrote the word “family” instead. After a practice, she saw that “brotherhood” had been put back on the board.

Goetz’s team had a groupchat where coaches would send messages about logistics like changing practice times, she said. But many of the players used the group chat to make inappropriate jokes that were demeaning to women, Goetz said.

Goetz met several girls at her school who wanted to play tackle football, but she almost never recommended that they join the team, she said. Instead, she encouraged them to join a non-scholastic league that Gordon and her father helped create.

Goetz said she preferred playing in the all-girls league because it felt “more like a family.”

“I feel more of a sense of teamwork and being accepted there and being able to be myself and being comfortable,” she said. “The environment is completely different as opposed to the boys.”

Gordon became an online star when a video of her dominant skills against boys gained widespread attention in 2012. Gordon, her father and other girls who wanted to play football filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging that three school districts and the Utah High School Activities Association have not done enough to provide girls with equal opportunities.

The association allows girls to play on high school boys football teams. But while 8,500 boys played high school football in the state during the 2018-2019 school year, fewer than 20 girls played, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

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Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.