In June 2017, a Title IX lawsuit was filed against three school districts and the Utah High School Activities Association seeking to add girls football teams to the lineup of sports offered to students.
On today’s Lawyer 2 Lawyer, guest host Jared Correia is joined by attorney Brent Gordon, and his daughter and plaintiff, Sam Gordon, to talk about girls high school football, and their efforts to provide girls more equality of opportunity at the high school sports level.
Special thanks to our sponsor Blue J Legal.
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Inside Girls High School Football and a Title IX Lawsuit
Brent Gordon: When we get girls that come out to our league, and we’ve got hundreds of them that come out, and you see those girls and you can see it on their face, the big grins on their faces, the parental support and you just know that they are doing the right thing and that these girls, it’s very meaningful to them.
Sam Gordon: And I really think we need an opportunity for girls to fight back and get to see the same priority that is set for the boys and get to use the same facilities and get all the perks of being a football player.
Intro: Welcome to the award-winning podcast, Lawyer 2 Lawyer, with J. Craig Williams, bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Hey folks. Welcome to Lawyer 2 Lawyer Podcast on the Legal Talk Network. I am Jared Correia and I will be your host today.
I am filling in for your usual host, J. Craig Williams, who is undoubtedly more professional than I am.
I usually host another podcast on this network called The Legal Toolkit, so you can listen to that as well.
So what we’re doing here is like a crazy crossover like those Hanna-Barbera Wacky Races from the 70s.
Before we introduce today’s topic and guests, we’d like to take this time to thank our sponsor Blue J Legal.
Blue J Legal’s AI-powered Foresight platforms accurately predict court outcomes and accelerate case research by using factors instead of keywords. Learn more at bluejlegal.com.
I should add though that we are not however sponsored by Blue Jay Way, which is the fine George Harrison contribution to Magical Mystery Tour. Fun fact, which you won’t learn on my other podcast, George is my favorite Beatle.
Today on Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we’re talking about girls high school football and a pending Title IX lawsuit focused on providing girls more quality of opportunity at the high school sports level.
We have a couple of fantastic guests today, a father-daughter combo. In fact, we got Samantha Gordon who is the football playing daughter and Brent Gordon who is her lawyer dad, who brought the Title IX lawsuit against several school districts in Utah that did not offer girls high school football.
So let’s start with Sam. Sam, welcome to the show. Can you tell folks a little bit about yourself?
Sam Gordon: Hi. Yeah, thanks for having us. My name is Sam Gordon. I am 17-years-old and I have been playing football for eight years now. I started playing football with the boys when I was younger about nine-years-old, played with them for a little bit and had a YouTube video go viral, kind of got a lot of attention for playing football with the boys and it was awesome to bring light to girls and football.
And then my dad and I and a couple other people who had been wanting to start a league for a while helped start a Girls Tackle Football League and that was awesome, it’s growing. We are in our sixth season right now and then of course, we’ve got this Title IX lawsuit.
Jared Correia: Right, that’s awesome and I have seen the YouTube video and we’ll get to that in a second. But I am still a little bit afraid to talk to you after seeing that. You’re totally crushing people.
Now, let’s turn to dad Brent. Brent, you may be the most jacked lawyer in America, I am just going to go ahead and say it. Would you be so kind just to talk to folks a little bit about your bio? Just give them the rundown.
Brent Gordon: Yeah, so I am most known as Sam’s dad. So everyone you know that I meet they’re like, oh, you’re Sam’s dad, right? Yeah, and I helped to create the first all-girls tackle football league and it grew from 50 players, its first year to nearly 500 this last season, and I am also a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney and my favorite client ever is my daughter Sam. In our Title IX lawsuit that we filed against school districts and the High School Activities Association.
Jared Correia: That’s awesome, and I think that’s like how you want to play it as a dad, right? I am like always happy when people are like, oh, you’re so-and-so’s father rather than just identifying me. So that’s great.
Now, I heard you were both San Francisco 49ers fans, is that correct?
Brent Gordon: Yes.
Jared Correia: Okay, all right, good. All right, I got to ask you, and maybe the answer is the same, I don’t know. Favorite 49ers player quarterback or otherwise, let’s start with Sam.
Sam Gordon: Oh man, mine might be the same as my dad on this one. I really liked Steve Young even though —
Jared Correia: Steve Young, good choice.
Sam Gordon: I like watch him in his prime, it was cool meeting him and awesome, same with Colin Kaepernick, they’re both very cool.
Jared Correia: Isn’t Steve Young like a financial advisor now or something crazy like that, doesn’t he have like a side-gig doing that, do you guys know? I think I read that somewhere at some point?
Brent Gordon: Yeah, he does, but he’s also on ESPN Monday Night Football as well and that’s where —
Jared Correia: Right, I have heard of that show before, yes.
Brent Gordon: Yeah, but Sam’s got to tell you how she became a 49ers fan. I was a 49ers fan because Steve Young played at BYU here in our hometown area, but Sam went out and trained with the 49ers. Tell him about that story, Sam.
Sam Gordon: So the 49ers, oh sorry dog; the 49ers invited me.
Jared Correia: That’s right. We are quarantined, dogs are everywhere. Go ahead.
Sam Gordon: Invited me out to a practice and to a game, which was super cool and while we were at a practice the coach came up to me and he was like, oh Sam, like, who’s your favorite football team? And while I am at the 49ers practice talking with 49ers coach, I say the Green Bay Packers, and he’s like, oh okay.
Jared Correia: Oh boy.
Sam Gordon: Well, if we beat them in the playoffs then we become your new favorite team and that’s what happened. So 49ers became my new favorite team.
Jared Correia: Nice. I mean, what a quarterback legacy on both those teams, thy are like BYU and San Francisco. So you guys must had fun at the Super Bowl last year at least for the first three quarters.
Sam Gordon: Yeah.
Jared Correia: Sorry, I had to. All right, Brent, let’s go back to you for a sec here. We’re talking about this lawsuit that you brought against several entities in Utah, right? Can you give us a little bit of background on that lawsuit, why you filed it, what stage you’re at now, just get us updated as far as that’s concerned.
Brent Gordon: Yes, so when we started the All-Girls League we had no idea what kind of interest we were going to have from girls. It’s never been done before. So when we started it up we just limited it to one age group and four teams and those spots filled up within a week.
So the response to the league was just incredible and unexpected how passionate the parents were, the girls loved it. So then I thought, well, we started this league for a purpose and what would we want to ultimately see happen with girls football, and I thought it would be awesome to have it in high schools and have girls high school football teams.
So I reached out to the High School Activities Association to get the application process for adding a new sport to the lineup of sports that they sanctioned.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Brent Gordon: And I was told by their executive director, we don’t even have an application process, it’s been decades since we have added a new sport. And so then I talked to some of the School District Administrators and I asked them if we could add girls’ football teams even if they weren’t sanctioned by the High School Activities Association they all said, no, and so we only offer sports that are sanctioned by the High School Activities Association.
So then, I am like, okay, well, I knew and I am trying to think about why I knew this, but I knew that the High School Activities Association, school districts had misunderstood what Title IX required. They all thought it required the same number of sports offered to boys as girls, when in fact, it requires the same number of participants among boys and girls.
So they had always said, well, we offer 10 boy sports 10 girls sports, but I did a government records request to get the numbers of participants on — at each of the schools and they almost offered double the number of sports opportunities to boys as girls.
So we went ahead and filed the lawsuit and within a few months of filing that we obtained summary judgment against the school districts for not providing equal participation opportunities in violation of Title IX. So that’s not the end of the story though with regard to the lawsuit.
Jared Correia: They called the legal process for a reason, right?
Brent Gordon: Exactly, three-and-a-half years later, right? So the other part that we had to prove was that there was interest in girls football, and so we had this battle. The school districts were saying, well, we can remedy our violation by adding girls wrestling, girls cheerleading, badminton, whatever we want and we were saying, no, you have to offer girls football, because that’s what we sued for.
And so there was that legal battle going on, and the districts were so certain that they could offer whatever they wanted that they did a survey of almost 7000 of the female high school students to gauge their interest in various sports.
Well, that survey backfired on them, because it showed that 15% of all the girls in the high schools wanted to play on girls football teams.
Jared Correia: Oh, interesting.
Brent Gordon: And so that helped us demonstrate interest among girls to play football. So we have a trial scheduled in September to address whether there’s sufficient interest in girls football that we could form viable teams at the high schools and enough teams that they could compete against each other.
Jared Correia: Right.
Brent Gordon: And the judge ruled in our favor that if we demonstrate that level or threshold of interest, then he will order the school districts to add girls football teams.
Jared Correia: Awesome.
Brent Gordon: So trial is just around the corner.
Jared Correia: Federal Appeals Court, is that right?
Brent Gordon: It’s a Federal District Court, yes.
Jared Correia: Federal District Court, got you. Okay, cool. I appreciate that update. All right, so let’s turn back to Sam for a second here, because there’s no lawsuit with us, Sam.
So, Sam, I have to tell you, I watched the YouTube clip and I am almost embarrassed to say this is a grown 42-year-old man, but I feel like you could have shredded me on the football field as a nine-year-old.
So can I ask you like why did you develop an interest in football to start with and how did you get so good at such a young age so quickly?
Sam Gordon: I have always loved football and we have always been a football family. I can remember when we were younger going out and playing in the yard with my dad and my brothers and playing at recess with the boys. So when I finally had the opportunity to play it competitively it was when I would go to my older brother’s football practices and they would run wind sprints at the end, and I was like, I wanted to go run them against them.
Jared Correia: What, you were like wind sprints sound awesome, let me do those?
Sam Gordon: Yeah, I don’t know, little nine-year-old me just really wanted to run around. So I did and I would go run them against them and I would beat most of the players on their team even though they were three years older than me and I kept doing this and it soon became a competition, the coach would be like, oh, beat — Gordon’s sister, go beat the girl, and after one of the practices the coach came up to me and he said, Sam, I think you could be really good at football. And that kind of gave me the idea that I wanted to play.
From there I talked to my dad about it and we decided to go for it, but if I was going to play I was going to have to be the best. So we went and got a personal trainer and the six months leading up to playing tackle football I was working my butt off three times a week doing training, speed and agility stuff to make sure that when I went out there I would crush it.
Jared Correia: That’s amazing, good for you, and so folks if you like look up this YouTube video, it’s really awesome. I showed it to my kids today and my son’s like, wow, she’s really good.
Sam Gordon: That’s awesome.
Jared Correia: So, Brent, let’s turn back to you for a second so like we are at the appeals stage of this case in the Federal District Court, what would next steps be for you? Let’s say you have a successful outcome, are you going to engage in building out these teams and if you don’t have a successful outcome like what’s the next step for you in terms of like the legal process?
Brent Gordon: Yeah, so the case is fairly complicated but we also sued the High School Activities Association for violation of the Equal Protection Clause. And what our theory is, is if you are going to offer extracurricular activities to students and you are going to classify them based on sex, then you should offer the same activities to boys and girls. So it’s not fair to offer boys football teams and girls volleyball teams for example but not offer girls football and boys volleyball. We should have equal extracurricular opportunities for boys and girls. The judge rejected that argument. So that was —
Jared Correia: I like that one though if it helps.
Brent Gordon: Thank you, and so we just have a trial set then on a Title IX lawsuit and then the judge did find that the High School Activities Association might have violated the Equal Protection Clause in a different way which was intentional discrimination against girls. So that would also be a factual issue we would have to resolve it at trial.
But the hope is that even if we lose we will find more plaintiffs and just keep suing because it’s the — this is the process that we have to remedy this equal protection or equality violation, right?
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Brent Gordon: So I talked to Sam and my kids about it a little bit and I said, look, the school districts ought to provide this sport for girls because it’s the right thing to do and here we are trying to sue and we have got Harvard-trained lawyers on our side and we are just battling and throwing all these resources and looking at all the resistance that we have, right?
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Brent Gordon: But imagine all these other groups that are disadvantaged or have been discriminated against and think about do they have the types of resources that we have available to us and how frustrating they might feel when they are trying to fight a system of discrimination.
So it gives us a little — it’s been good for my family just to get a little bit of perspective and insight about how hard it is to get institutional change even when the change that you are asking for is the right thing.
Jared Correia: Oh, totally, yeah, and if somebody has a daughter I think it’s awesome that you are doing this.
So let’s take a quick break before we move on to our next segment. I am still a little bit disappointed that nobody picked Y.A. Tittle is their favorite 49er, but that’s all right, I will get over it. Let’s take a quick break, let’s hear from our sponsors and then we will get back to it.
J. Craig Williams: Predict legal outcomes with Blue J Legal’s Foresight platforms using AI to analyze thousands of cases and administrative rulings. Blue J Legal can predict with 90% accuracy on average how a judge would likely rule in your case. Plus, you can research by factors and outcomes to find the relevant cases in seconds. Stay ahead of the curve and learn more at bluejlegal.com.
Jared Correia: All right, welcome back to Lawyer 2 Lawyer, I am your guest host, remember me, Jared Correia coming in from The Legal Toolkit Podcast. And with us today are Brent and Sam Gordon. We are spending some time today talking about a quality of high school sports opportunities for girls. So let’s get back into it right now.
And I guess like in terms of timing of this lawsuit, we talked about that a little bit, like by the time this has all resolved, like Sam is probably going to be graduated from high school, right?
So Brent, you talked a little bit about this, but why is it important to you to push forward, even if Sam doesn’t necessarily directly benefit from a successful resolution of the lawsuit, I know you talked a little bit about that, do you want to add anything to that topic?
Brent Gordon: Yeah, for sure. Well, one thing is we are still not done fighting for Sam. So if the judge scheduled incredibly, this was I thought pretty incredible for the judge to clear out time on his calendar to hold a trial in a couple of months and he said if we win, he is going to order the School District to provide girls football during Sam’s senior year. So if we win she can have that opportunity to play for her school team.
But if she doesn’t, what I think changes a lot of people’s minds about girls football is actually seeing it and when we get girls that come out to our league and we have got hundreds of them that come out and you see those girls and you can see it on their face, the big grins on their faces, their parental support and you just know that you are doing the right thing and that these girls, it’s very meaningful to them. We have girls from all different socioeconomic backgrounds, different body shapes and sizes and many of the girls have never had an opportunity to play any other sport. So I think that’s important for girls and something that we are going to continue to fight for even after Sam has graduated and moved on to college.
Jared Correia: Right, that’s cool. And so Sam, I will turn that question to you as well, like hopefully you get to play your senior year; if not, like I think this is an important thing for you to be fighting for as well, I assume you agree and so why do you feel that way?
Sam Gordon: I mean the same reasons that my dad said, it’s a little bit different because I am out there on the field with all these girls, but when you actually go out there, you can see the difference that football makes for a lot of these girls.
We had a girl who played her senior year and her and her football pics was on her graduation announcements, like they get to say that they are a football player and playing a sport has so many benefits and football offers the opportunity to girls who wouldn’t be able to go out and play soccer or basketball or these other sports that might be more expensive and not really work for them and so I think it’s great to fight for football.
And another thing is being within the schools and seeing the way that the football team is just worshipped and like the boys basketball team is just worshiped and we don’t really have a girl sport that gets to battle that. And we had our girls championship games underneath the lights and we get crowds out there and it’s more crowds than I have ever seen for any other girls sporting event at our high schools because football is exciting and I really think we need an opportunity for girls to fight back and get to see the same priority that is set for the boys and get to use the same facilities and get all the perks of being a football player.
Jared Correia: Yeah, that’s really cool. So let’s extend this discussion just a little bit further to kind of like the culture at large and Brent, you alluded to this a little bit as well, but like if you look at female football players in pop culture, like the representations are often fairly sexist and negative, right? Like there was a Lingerie Football League a few years back which I remember.
Even if you look at movies, like ‘Necessary Roughness’, you have got Kathy Ireland as the placekicker. I remember watching the ‘Little Giants’ when I was a kid, there is like a female football player in there who is not portrayed probably in the best light. Sam is like I haven’t heard of any of these movies; that’s totally okay. So let me start with Brent, like how important is it for you to enact this legal change so that you can make a change to cultural perceptions at large?
Brent Gordon: Yeah, absolutely and one of the things that I love about our league is the moms that will come up to me and say, I wish you would have started this when I was a kid, because this is what I wanted to play. And you think about like the labels that are attached to women who played sports, especially contact sports; oh, that’s a tomboy or that girl isn’t that feminine and they are teased about that, but what we are doing is we are showing girls that it’s okay to play contact sports and it’s okay to get a little bit rough and tumble and that that’s something that girls can do as well.
But one of the things that I think is really important with our league is just to demonstrate that girls and boys can do the same activities, but we do need to have them separate from the boys because of biological differences.
So when Sam’s video that we have alluded to and talked about is her playing football against nine-year-old boys. Now, if she were to go play on her high school football team against a boy she would get destroyed and what we are trying to do is to just demonstrate that this is something — this is a sport that girls would want to play, we know they want to play because they were surveyed and asked and so those stereotypes about what girls are interested in, all the school districts are saying, well, we are going to offer competitive cheer to the sport where we put girls in miniskirts and they can jump up and down so you can see them in their underwear, that’s what we are going to provide instead of football where you are in masks and helmets, you have got the shoulder pads on, it’s completely different.
And that’s what we are hoping to do is to just change what people’s perceptions are about what girls want. Let’s ask them.
Jared Correia: Yeah, I mean I am entirely sure that Sam wouldn’t crush the 17-year old boys, but we will leave that aside for now. And I will also promise to refrain from referencing any more 90s pop culture before we are done.
But Sam, like your thoughts on that, about changing cultural perceptions, because you have got a pretty good footprint here, right, you have been in ads for the NFL, you have met tons of professional athletes, you have the ability to enact a lot of cultural change as well.
Sam Gordon: Yeah. I think it’s great and football does that. Just like my dad was saying, the perspective that people have of girls playing football is either you have the Lingerie League, which is just not at all what we want or you have the idea that girls shouldn’t be getting tough and getting in the dirt and getting dirty.
But if you come out to our league you see like so much diversity. We have those cheerleaders there playing and we have lacrosse players and rugby players and you just see everybody all coming together to play football. And I think it’s important to take down the stereotypes that girls don’t want to play contact sports, and just like my dad was saying, ask the girls what they want to play and stop letting our cultural ideas get in the way of us playing a sport we want to do.
Jared Correia: I will say though that my daughter just totally ran me down in her new princess bicycle the other day, no remorse whatsoever, right, on the front lawn.
So Sam, let me ask you in terms of like where you go next, right, because you are going to be graduating from high school, what’s next for you in terms of athletic endeavors, in terms of the collegiate level or beyond that? Are you going to try to play football, are you going to try to start programs, are you going to look into other sports, like what’s next?
Sam Gordon: So for me first getting into a college; I want to go to an Ivy League School.
Jared Correia: Oh nice, that’s great.
Sam Gordon: Hopefully I can play soccer in college, but putting the academics first, really been training hard though. My dream since I was like nine years old has been to play for the US Women’s National Team for soccer.
Jared Correia: Good dream.
Sam Gordon: So still working towards that one.
As far as football goes, I want to stay involved with that as much as possible. So hopefully when I get out there in college I can find some way to start programs there and just really try and start spreading Girls Tackle Football, it’s definitely a dream, I want to see it become as big as the NFL, because it definitely has the potential to.
Jared Correia: I feel like you could probably make the Holy Cross Football Team. I am just going to throw it out there.
So Brent, let’s end with you, because this is a legal show and I am supposed to be talking about legal stuff. So before I get my hand slapped, why is it important for lawyers to advocate for social causes like these, especially in the current environment, because you are not necessarily like a Title IX lawyer but this is something you have taken on anyway?
Brent Gordon: Yeah, and that’s something that I have talked to my children about, like what is the benefit of becoming an attorney and I have always said that my legal education is very empowering. When you know what the rules are that our society has set, you can navigate through those rules and understand how to use different laws as a tool to affect change, then now you are armed with something where a parent can take on the state High School Activities Association, the school district and you know what, they did not want to listen to me or to negotiate with me or to help me as a parent, but as an attorney they have to show up in court.
Jared Correia: Right.
Brent Gordon: So when I filed that suit somebody has got to answer. When we go to the Motion for Summary Judgment, somebody has got to file a responsive brief and show up and argue to the judge. And when they make their arguments, they are not making them to me, they are making them to the judge, and the judge can tell them that’s ridiculous, I am rejecting that argument and that response from the judge has so much more power than me telling those folks you are being ridiculous.
And so it gives us that. It’s just empowering and to have that ability we really need to be looking to determine where there is situations that we see, where there is injustices or inequality and try to find those rules and those laws that can help us make change, because we can do that.
I looked at that even with the same-sex marriage issue, right? You have how many different states passed constitutional amendments outlining same-sex marriage, but then you get the one case that goes to the United States Supreme Court and within overnight literally now how many people across the country have these rights that they didn’t have before.
So we have this ability through the laws and the legal system to make a greater change than perhaps we would just by simply advocating this as a parent. So I think attorneys need to identify those situations where they see injustices and inequality and to step up and to help out.
And ultimately if we are successful, then most of these laws do include attorney’s fees provisions. So you might not get paid up front, but if you have got a righteous cause and you prevail, then you could still potentially get paid not — it’s not just potentially just pro bono, right?
Jared Correia: Right, right, right.
Brent Gordon: You could actually make a bonus, a nice bonus.
Jared Correia: That’s funny, kids of lawyers are hilarious. Like my daughter will be like, I will pick her up at daycare and she is like I was putting time out today, can you see my teacher. I am like not how it works and also I haven’t had an active practicing license in 15 years, but I appreciate the ask.
On that note I think we can wrap up here. This is a great show. We have been talking to Brent and Sam Gordon.
So Brent, Sam, can you share any final thoughts or just let folks know how they can find out more about you and about the causes that you are advocating for. Let’s start with Sam this time.
Sam Gordon: Yeah. One of the great things to go look at is just our website, utahgirlstacklefootball.com, and you can see everything there. Our social media pages is just Utah Girls Tackle Football. I honestly don’t know if I have these names right, but just following up with that.
Jared Correia: Google Utah Girls Tackle Football, I think we can do that.
Sam Gordon: Yeah, that’s basically it.
Jared Correia: You will find it.
Sam Gordon: And you will find all the information about that and we are just going to keep on fighting until we get what we are looking for.
Jared Correia: That’s fantastic. Brent, yeah, can you — I know Sam covered that, but do you want to talk a little bit about your law firm and how people can find out more information about what you do on that score?
Brent Gordon: Yeah, sure. I handle personal injury cases, so I am a car crash attorney and I am licensed in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah. So if somebody wanted to find me they could Google me as well.
And I guess as a final thought was, here we had a dream and it’s something that teachers or coaches or parents tell their kids, like if you can dream it, you can be it, and I think that that’s where Sam’s story really illustrates that point. She wants to be a football player, she went out and did it and she wants to start a league, she is doing it. She wants to get girls football in the high schools, she is doing it. So follow your dreams and you just have to keep pushing. You are going to hit those obstacles, you have got to just push through them.
Jared Correia: I feel like this was a very uplifting episode of Lawyer 2 Lawyer. I am happy with all this.
So Sam, Brent, thanks again for appearing on the show today. We are going to wrap it up here. It was a pleasure having you both on.
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I am Jared Correia, thanks for listening. Join us next time for another great topic with your regular host. When you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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