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2002

Katie Hnida is first woman to play in Division I football game

On this day in 2002, the University of New Mexico junior place-kicker Katie Hnida attempts to kick an extra point in a game against UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl. Though her kick was blocked by UCLA, Hnida became the first woman to play in a Division I football game.

Hnida was the latest of a small number of female players to attempt to make inroads into college football beginning in the mid-1990s. She began her college football career at the University of Colorado, transferred to Santa Barbara City College in 1999 and was invited to try out for New Mexico after they saw a video of her kicking skills. After suiting up for each home game of the season, Hnida was given the go-ahead by Coach Rocky Long to make the extra point attempt after Desmar Black returned a 55-yard interception for a touchdown in the first quarter. She kicked the ball too low, and UCLA’s Brandon Chillar blocked it. Hnida didn’t kick again in the game, which UCLA went on to win 27-13. The following season, Hnida kicked two extra points on two attempts in New Mexico’s win over Texas State on August 30, 2003, becoming the first woman to score during a Division I game.

Hnida’s story got an unpleasant footnote in 2004, when she told Sports Illustrated that she had been sexually harassed and bullied during her time at the University of Colorado, and that she had been raped by a teammate. Despite being joined by several other women in her accusations of harassment, Hnida declined to press charges, and the case was not pursued. The Colorado football coach, Gary Barnett, responded to the allegations by insulting Hnida and calling her “not only a girl” but a “terrible” player; he was suspended briefly and left the team in 2005.

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