Utah’s Sam Gordon was a viral star at 9. Now she’s in leadership of a pro football league for women

Gordon will serve on the advisory board of the X League before eventually being more involved in promotion and support

(Rick Bowmer A{ ) Sam Gordon catches a football, Oct. 20, 2020, in Herriman, Utah. Gordon was the only girl in a tackle football league when she started playing the game at age 9. Now, Gordon is taking a leadership position in a new women's football league.

When she was 9, she starred in a viral video. Ten years later, she sits in a top position of a new professional sports league.

Sam Gordon, now 19, was named to the advisory board of the X League, a new 7-on-7 professional football league that features only women players. Her role with the league, she said, is an “ownership, leadership and kind of stewarding” position “just to make sure it stays on the right track.”

Advocating for women’s football has become Gordon’s life work. She took the buzz from her viral video and parlayed it into her photo on a Wheaties box, a tackle football league for girls in Utah and an appearance in a Super Bowl commercial — just to name a few.

Gordon was also one of the plaintiffs in a federal Title IX lawsuit that attempted to get girls’ tackle football sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association as an official sport. The judge ruled against the plaintiffs and the case is now on appeal.

But while Gordon is proud of her founding and playing on the Utah Girls Tackle Football League and mounting a legal fight for the sport in her home state, she thinks her involvement in the X League is the next chapter of her advocacy.

“I really do think that kind of was just the start of my football journey and really advocating for women’s involvement,” Gordon said. “This league has the potential to do a lot more, I think.”

Gordon is currently a college student at Columbia University studying film and media. She plays on the university’s soccer team. So she doesn’t have much time at the moment to be heavily involved in the league, but expects that to change eventually.

“Logistics of it are a little bit funky,” Gordon said. “But as time goes on, I plan to get more and more involved and take more and more of a leadership position in the league.”

Gordon said that as time goes on and her involvement increases, she will acquire equity in the league.

The X League has teams in eight cities in the United States and plans to expand to all 32 NFL markets. Those cities are Los Angeles, Austin, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Kansas City and Arizona.

The other two people on the league’s advisory board — NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka and Shaun Harvey, former chairman of the English Football League — want to create similar leagues overseas and in Canada and Mexico.

Aside from the 7-on-7 aspect, Gordon said the X League will be innovative in how it gets disseminated to audiences. Players and coaches will wear microphones, she said, and viewers will be able to choose their own camera angles as they watch. She also hopes to in the future use her currently developing skills in film and media to create content for the league.

The X League, which begins its inaugural season June 10, is essentially the continuation of the Legends Football League, which was originally called the Lingerie Football League at its inception in 2009 before undergoing a major rebrand in 2013 and later restructuring into its current form. Gordon said the lingerie iteration of the league was “sexist” and didn’t put women in the best position to succeed.

But this league, Gordon said, will be different. What started in Utah with the girls’ football league, she said, can only help erode stereotypes of women playing the sport.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Sam Gordon adjusts her ponytail as she walks across a field, Oct. 20, 2020, in Herriman, Utah. Gordon was the only girl in a tackle football league when she started playing the game at age 9. Now, Gordon is taking a leadership position in a new women's football league.

“I think this league has the power to do that by showcasing women in a position where they are actually playing and competing and getting the media attention they deserve and the sponsorships,” Gordon said. “So I think by breaking down the stereotypes, this league has the potential to make a lot more change on a national level and have a bigger impact.”

Along with Gordon’s excitement about working with the professional athletes who will play for the X League comes some nerves about whether people will have interest in watching games. But she seemed confident in the outcome.

“I am nervous about people not being extremely receptive to it at first, and I think there’s things like the LFL that sometimes can put it into a bad light,” Gordon said. “But I think [with] our approach to this league and really empowering women, we’re going to be able to find like-minded people who are just as excited about this change as we are.”

Gordon said it feels “empowering” to be part of the league and help create change.

“I am so excited to be involved in a league at this level because … women’s football has the potential to become something just as great as the men’s version of it,” Gordon said. “And I’m excited to be able to give women that opportunity to get paid, to get media sponsorships, to get the attention that we deserve as players and athletes and broadcasters.”