Jen Welter And The Beginning Of Female Coaches In The NFL

When Sarah Thomas was officially appointed a permanent NFL referee earlier this year, she made headlines for being the first woman to hold the position. In such a male-dominated, testosterone-driven sport as American football, achieving this feat was monumental. It was regarded by many as the first step to introducing even more women into all professional sports leagues.   

Along with Thomas, Dr. Jen Welter, Ph.D—whether intentionally or not—has also been advocating for a future where the sidelines are not only populated by men. At the end of July, Welter accepted a coaching internship with the Arizona Cardinals, working with the inside linebackers and directly under head coach Bruce Arians. Her internship was throughout the Cardinals' training camp and preseason, making her the first woman in the NFL to hold the title of "coach".   

The 37-year old who graduated from Boston College with a business degree began playing tackle football after graduation and soon left the corporate world behind to dedicate herself to bettering her skills and knowledge on the field. Last year, Welter played as a running back on the Dallas Revolution in the Arena Football League, becoming the first woman to hold a non-kicking position. At the same time, she was also the team's linebackers coach.   

Welter's experience as a coach—and as a player—undoubtedly contributed to her securing a leadership position on an NFL team, but also established a credibility that her players had to respect.  

“I was a great athlete. I read plays really fast. I studied a lot of film,” Welter said in an interview with Cosmopolitan.com. 
“I was very big on technique: using leverage, taking smart angles, all of those things. That's what made me a great player. When I went to coach the guys, those were the same things I emphasized. This is how I can help you. They respected it because they knew it was legit. They knew it was coming from someone who was experienced and someone who did it.”  

Welter further explained that although she did not encounter any sexism during her internship from any level of management or the players, social media was, inevitably, a different story. The biggest challenge she faced while with the Cardinals was actually her uniform.  

“The equipment guys really wanted to do a great job, and they did, but they would be like, ‘Jen, we have never had to do this before.’ They would try to order khaki pants and they wouldn't know the translation between guy sizes and girl sizes… When I got there, they had these khaki pants for me, and they were so big. I probably would have offended somebody because they would have fallen down. “  

It is the opportune time for people like Welter to jump start the inclusion of women in other sports-related areas, and for others to take the resulting opportunities to make the presence of women on the field during game time a common sight.   

Although Welter’s internship with the Cardinals ended on Wednesday, she is optimistic that she will be able to leverage the face time and publicity she has received from her history-making role and continue pushing the idea that women in sports is not far-fetched but definitely achievable.   

"People will say, 'Jen, you're living your dream.' No, I'm not," Welter said. 

"To me, a dream is something that you lay awake and thought, I'm going to be an NFL coach. I never had that dream because there was nowhere to look for that dream. It wasn't like I could look on the sidelines and see a woman out there. And yet, now, that is something every little girl can put on her list of possibilities." 

The league and the greater social landscape has, in general, gotten over notions of female "inferiority" in a historically male industry, and now it is time for this attitude to actually manifest and result in more women blowing whistles, throwing penalty flags, and getting Gatorade showers. 

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