How this stigma-defying young woman started the first all-girls tackle football league.

These players are changing what it means to throw "like a girl."

At 9 years old, Sam Gordon learned the hard way that being the best didn’t always mean getting picked first.

She was fast and agile, beating every single boy at her first ever tryouts for tackle football. She exceeded her dad’s already high expectations. He knew Sam was a gifted athlete, but seeing just how gifted she was blew him away.

Rather than being first pick in the draft, Sam was put onto the seventh of nine teams. Around 80 boys who were slower and not as agile were picked before her.


freshman year here we come!

A post shared by Sam Gordon (@sam_gordon6) on

“I had to explain to her, a 9-year-old, ‘Sam, because you’re a girl, you are going to have more obstacles to success than if you were a boy,” says Sam’s father, Brent Gordon.

But rather than be discouraged, Sam didn’t let that unfairness hold her back.

“I decided to prove the coaches wrong,” Sam says, now 14 and a freshman in high school.

And that’s just what she did: All season long, she used her small size and speed to weave in and out of holes in the defense, taking hits and making hits as she went.

That season — her first season of playing tackle football with an entire league of boys — she scored 35 touchdowns, rushed nearly 2,000 yards, and made 65 tackles.

Her father made a video reel of Sam’s highlights from the season — and the video went viral.

Finally everyone saw the talented football player she was.

Sam was put on a Wheaties box, invited to the Super Bowl, and even went on a variety of talk shows.

While she was never afraid to tackle and play as the lone girl on a team, other girls were, which meant they never got the chance to play tackle football because, if they wanted to, they had to join a boys team. Even after Sam’s video went viral, parents were still nervous about putting their daughters in a boys football league.

That’s why Crystal Sacco, a former football player, reached out to Brent with the proposal of starting a girls tackle football league.

At first, Brent wasn’t sure there would be enough girls to start the league. But his worries soon vanished. Sam was asked to speak at a middle school about how she plays football and she asked the assembly room if any girls wanted to join her.

“I’m not kidding, every single girl’s hand shot up,” says Brent. He called Sacco the next day. Soon after, Sacco and Brent set up all the necessary measures to begin opening up the sport for girls who always wanted to play.

The Utah Girls Tackle Football League had their first season in 2014. Within one week, 50 girls signed up.

And the number of sign-ups doubles each year. They’re currently going into their fourth season, and they might have as many as 400 players.

The best part is, prior experience doesn’t seem to factor into who succeeds on the team.

“Around 80% of the girls have no experience playing football,” says Sacco, but that’s OK because they’re taught from the ground up. “When they put on those pads and helmets, they just emotionally fit into it.” She wanted to show these girls, ones who weren’t the most confident in themselves, that “strong is OK.”

Despite the majority of the girls not having experience, competition on the field didn’t take long to become fierce, says Sam. “It’s tough out there,” she says. “And everybody is super passionate about it.”

“At the first game, one of the referees came back to me and said, ‘You guys have more fans in attendance than we see at high school sophomore games,’” says Brent.

The league was a clear hit with girls and parents alike.

“One of the best things about starting up this league is that I will get, almost on a weekly basis, either a text message or email from a parent that signed up their daughter for football tell[ing] me how big of an impact playing football has had on their daughter’s self-esteem, confidence, mood — attitude in general,” he says.

In their town of Herriman, Utah, football is everything. Boys in the town start playing at age 8. “Now girls have this [same] opportunity,” says Sam.

First ever girls high school football state champs! Go Mustangs!🏈

A post shared by Sam Gordon (@sam_gordon6) on

The Utah Girls Tackle Football League may have been the first of its kind, but it definitely won't be the last.

Small leagues have popped up in other states like Indiana and Georgia. Even the NFL recognized the influence, naming Sam as the first ever winner of the Game Changer Award at this year’s NFL Honors.

Girls finally have their own space to compete in football, a place where they can get into the sport while breaking down bias of what it means to “play like a girl.” They’re proving that they can be just as good, if not better, than the boys. It’s about more than having the chance to play the game, it’s about continuing a legacy of strong women who reclaim and open up new spaces for future generations of women in sports.

This story was produced as part of a campaign called "17 Days" with DICK'S Sporting Goods. These stories aim to shine a light on real occurrences of sports bringing people together.

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Here's to the stepdads who step in and step up to fatherhood.

Happy Father's Day to all the stellar stepdads.

Some fathers are there at the starting line. And some fathers step in partway through the race.

My biological dad left my mom when I was a toddler. I don't even remember living with him, and my memories of weekend visits throughout my early childhood are vague. He loved me, I'm sure, but he eventually slipped off the radar. He wasn't abusive or a massive jerk or anything. He just wasn't there.

Who was there was my Dad. My stepdad, technically, but for all intents and purposes, he was and is my Dad. He stepped in when I was four, and stepped up to raise two kids who weren't his. He went to the parent-teacher conferences, attended the school plays, surprised us with trips to the ice cream shop, taught us how to change a tire. He loved us, not just in word but in action.

As a parent myself, I now understand how hard it must have been to step into that role. Step-parenting involves unique relationship dynamics, and you have to figure a lot of things out as you go along.

My Dad had his own demons from his own childhood to deal with on top of that, and his cycle-breaking parenting still awes me. But he was always there to cheer me on, comfort me, and talk me through life's challenges. He wasn't perfect, but he was there, actively engaged in the marathon of fatherhood every step of the way.

Stepparents are often vilified in stories, but there are millions of awesome stepdads out there.

Without a doubt there are some terrible stepdads (and stepmoms) out there, just as there are some terrible parents in general. But there are a lot of great ones, too.

Alison Tedford's 11-year-old son Liam is lucky to have such a stepdad. Liam shares his time between his mom's and dad's house equally, but when he is with his mom, he's also with his stepdad, Paul. Alison says that Liam adores Paul, who stepped into the stepdad role when Liam was 7. Paul spent the first couple of years carrying Liam to bed every night, per Liam's request. Now that he's too big for that, they practice lacrosse and play video games together.

"To support Liam in his love of lacrosse, Paul took a lacrosse coaching course and is the team statistics manager," says Tedford. "They are best buds and Paul treats him with all the love and kindness he does his own kids. He drives him all sorts of places, goes on field trips, and makes sure he has everything he needs and is having fun. He's a really great stepdad."

These aren't the kinds of stories that make the news. But millions of stepdads dive into supportive, involved parenting as they fall in love with their loved ones' kids.

Having a stepparent is now about as common as not having one.

According to the US Census Bureau, half of the 60 million kids in the U.S. live with a biological parent and the parent's partner. And the most common stepfamily configuration—85% of them—is a mom, her biological kids, and a stepfather. That's a whole lot of stepdads.

Blending families can be complicated, and figuring out how to navigate those waters isn't easy. But family counselor and researcher Joshua Gold calls becoming a stepdad both "a challenge and an opportunity."

"The challenge comes in rejecting previously held beliefs about what it means to be a father," Gold wrote in The Conversation. "Stepfathers – and I count myself as one – must avoid outmoded notions of compensating for the absent biological father or paternal dominance."

"The opportunity comes in devising a parenting role that expresses the best and fullest aspects of being a man and a father figure," he wrote. "Done consciously and deliberately, the role and function of the stepfather can be tremendously fulfilling for all, and a source of lifelong joy and pride."

Here's to the stepdads who step into that role, step up to the challenge, and make the most of the opportunity to have a positive, nurturing influence in children's lives.

Family

'Love is a battlefield' indeed. They say you have to kiss ~~at least~~ a few frogs to find your prince and it's inevitable that in seeking long-term romantic satisfaction, slip ups will happen. Whether it's a lack of compatibility, unfortunate circumstances, or straight up bad taste in the desired sex, your first shot at monogamous bliss might not succeed. And that's okay! Those experiences enrich our lives and strengthen our resolve to find love. That's what I tell myself when trying to rationalize my three-month stint with the bassist of a terrible noise rock band.


One woman's viral tweet about a tacky mug wall encouraged people to share stories about second loves. Okay, first things first: Ana Stanowick's mom has a new boyfriend who's basically perfect. All the evidence you need is in the photograph:

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Family



The Poison Garden of Alnwick www.youtube.com


Plants have the power to heal us, yet plants have the power to harm us. There's an unusual garden that's dedicated solely to the latter. The Poison Garden located on the grounds of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England is the deadliest garden in the world. In the Poison Garden, you can admire the plants with your eyes, but you're not allowed to touch or smell anything, because every plant in the garden is poisonous, and can possibly even kill you. The name of the garden should be a dead giveaway.

The garden was created in 2005 when Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, wanted to show people the scariest plants around. "I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill," the Duchess said. "I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it, and how gruesome and painful the death might be." Honestly, she's got a point.

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Planet

I had a strange experience in the Vancouver, B.C. airport last week that I can't stop thinking about.

I was on my way to the Women Deliver conference—the largest international conference on the rights, health, and well-being of women and girls. As a woman and an American, I was excited to be immersed in conversations about improving gender equality globally. I was excited to meet people leading movements to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. Justin Trudeau, Melinda Gates, Tarana Burke, and other major movers and shakers were going to be there. The conference had been sold out for months.

As I made my through customs at the Vancouver airport, I expected to feel some excitement about being there. I did not, however, expect to feel what I felt as I left the terminal.

The signs for exiting the Vancouver airport don't say "Exit," they say "Way Out." And as I walked toward the Way Out sign, something about those two words and the realization that I had just left American soil hit hard. A wave of unexpected emotion washed over me.

Relief.

Scenes from The Handmaid's Tale—of people fleeing the hellscape the U.S. had become and seeking asylum in Canada—flashed through my mind. A mere few years ago, such scenes would have felt like far-fetched fiction. But walking toward the Way Out signs in the Vancouver airport, it felt too close to home. For a moment, I had an urge to run toward those signs like my life depended on it. To run toward sanity—toward freedom.

We have "American freedoms" drilled into us from the time we're children. Right now, it feels like a lie.

I hadn't fully realized how psychologically oppressive the U.S. had become until I left it, even just temporarily. The steady drip of regressive policies, the erosion of facts and denial of science, the resurgence of racist and nationalist movements, the daily insanity coming from the highest levels of our government, and the intensely polarized atmosphere here has worn on me more than I realized.

And I'm generally a super positive person. Seriously, I'm like the Pollyanna of politics—if I'm struggling here, what are other people feeling? (I'm also a middle-class white lady whose privilege has prevented me from fully grasping the fear and angst marginalized communities have been feeling for, well, ever. I'm well aware that I'm late to the game of uncertainty.)

Stepping into Canada, I felt like I could fully exhale for the first time in several years, only I didn't even know I had been holding my breath. Ironically, leaving "the land of the free" gave me a keen feeling of freedom and a sense of safety I didn't know I'd lost. I never expected to feel that way leaving my own country.

My internal dialogue has always been, "America, I love you. You aren't perfect, but your positives outweigh your negatives." Now it's, "America, I want to love you. But it's clear that our relationship has become toxic and I'm not sure how much longer I can do this."

Attending a women's rights conference as an American right now was surreal.

The Women Deliver conference was a powerful four days filled with people from 165 countries working to empower women and fight for their health and well-being. Heads of international aid organizations, heads of women's associations, heads of movements, Heads of State, and thousands of others all gathered together to discuss the state of the world's women and girls.

And you want to know the biggest contribution my country made to that conversation? A litany of regressive policies and legislation that prompted a collective, international rallying cry: "We refuse to go backwards."

I got to see some of the ways our current policies affect women not just in the U.S., but outside of it. For example, I was embarrassed by our reimplementation and expansion of the "global gag rule," which removes funding from any organization that so much as mentions abortion—even in countries where abortion is legal—and puts the lives of women and girls at risk.

I don't think most average Americans understand how harmful the global gag rule is. I watched a woman from Kenya share her story of escaping female genital mutilation at age 8. I heard from a woman in Pakistan who escaped child marriage at 11 years old. I watched an 18-year-old from Nigeria who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram at 14 and repeatedly raped until she escaped at 16—eight months pregnant. The organizations that helped these girls focus their work on sexual and reproductive health, including ending child marriage and genital cutting, educating communities on safe sex, and providing resources to prevent unwanted pregnancy. And if any such organization were to inform a child bride whose body would be ravaged by childbirth or a Boko Haram escapee impregnated by violence that abortion was one possible option for them, they would lose all funding from the U.S.

That is criminal. And it is happening. And it's just one backwards policy America is responsible for.

However, I left the conference—and Canada—with a strong sense of hope.

One thing stepping out of the U.S. and meeting agents of change from around the world showed me was that there are so many incredible people doing important, world-changing work out there. The Maasai woman who has helped save 17,000 girls from genital cutting by helping transform coming-of-age rituals into celebrations of girls' hopes and dreams, for example. Orhe 18-year-old Zambian girl who earned a standing ovation from four heads of state after eloquently calling out politicians for being all talk and no action. Or the organizers who pulled together all of these individuals to help women support one another, to stand in their power wherever they live.

I returned to the U.S. not with a sense of dread, but with a sense of purpose. Women are making waves in the world, pushing back against centuries of inequality and patriarchal norms. Naturally, there will be pushback against that pushback, but we will not go backwards.

Everything isn't okay, and we are living in strange times. But there are positive things happening. Old systems have to be broken down in order to build something new. Sometimes a step back clears the way for two steps forward. I have to believe that's where we are right now—poised for a great leap into a better future, where all of us feel free and safe on our own soil.

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