It was just a simple football scrimmage at Duke University in the spring of 1995 when freshman Heather Sue Mercer kicked a 28-yard field goal to win the game for the Blue Devils. Though Duke head coach Fred Goldsmith and Mercer agreed to a partial tryout in the fall of 1994, he then invited her to become a manager on the team and to work out with the other five kickers. So when several of the kickers were unable to play in the annual spring scrimmage game, Mercer was chosen to fill in.
It was after that game that Goldsmith told reporters and Mercer that she had made the team. Let us keep in mind that Mercer also made an agreement with Goldsmith not to talk to the media and let them know what they were doing. Of course she agreed, in an attempt to play for the Blue Devils. But everything changed by August when Goldsmith told Mercer that she was not on the team after all.
Most students and faculty are wondering who this woman is and how she ended up in this position.
Mercer was a third-team, all-state kicker her senior year at Yorktown Heights High School in New York. She is a 21-year-old native of Yorktown Heights and is currently a senior at Duke University.
Just last month, Mercer filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in Durham, N.C., claiming that Duke violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which means that sex discrimination is prohibited in any college athletic programs that receive funds from the federal government.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference on Aug. 26, 1995, Mercer said, “I believe if I were a man and had the same kicking skills that I have now, I would be a member of the Duke football team.”
She also said, “I would not be the best kicker on the team. I would certainly not be the strongest kicker on the team, but I would have a uniform and pads, and I would be a part of the team.”
Now doesn’t this sound like all she wanted was a chance? She wanted to play football, but because she could not kick as far as the “men” could on the team, she was not able to play.
An estimated 90 football players are a part of Division I football teams. And Duke did not have enough room to have one woman on the team?
To put the icing on the cake, Goldsmith said, “I shouldn’t have said it. I was carried away at the time,” referring to telling Mercer that she made the team.
The point is to tell students and faculty that this woman was probably discriminated against because of her gender. There is no record of any female kicker playing for a Division I football team. She would have been the first. And if she was not discriminated against because she is a woman, then the head coach at Duke should not have told her that she was on the team and then changed his mind. Coaches have an idea in their minds who they want, who they are going to keep, who they are going to cut and who is athletically inclined to play a sport.
Mercer is trying to receive justice for what was done to her. In our world today, filing a lawsuit is a dirty habit some people develop. Money is not everything, but “money talks” and maybe Duke will stop hiring indecisive coaches at its institution if it loses some money. But if she does not win this case, it will not be a surprise, especially to women.
All that matters is that she is standing up for what she believes in. Who said women cannot play football? Believe it or not, women can do a lot of things that men can do, if not better.
Erica Aguilar, a junior journalism major, is features editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.