Change is Happening, Beginning with the NFL

On Sunday, February 2, 100 million people saw something that has never been seen before: a female, openly gay coach guiding an NFL team in the biggest game of their lives. 

Sowers, 33, received a small amount of fame for her job as an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers. The night of the Superbowl, reporters gathered around her, asking her questions about this significant moment in history.

I’m not just here to be the token female; I’m here to help us win.”

— Katie Sowers

“I’m not just here to be the token female; I’m here to help us win,” Sowers said in a Microsoft commercial that aired during the game. 

As a kid, Sowers was never allowed to play football; however, as an adult, she played and coached in the Women’s Football Alliance, an unglamorous league that people pay to participate in. She also coached a girls’ team in Kansas City. One of the girls on that team was the daughter of Scott Pioli, Kansas City Chiefs general manager. Pioli saw potential in Sowers – she was young and had football smarts.

Years later, Pioli moved on to become General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons. Pioli saw potential in Sowers and conversed with The Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, a program designed to increase the number of minorities in the NFL, and asked Falcons coach, Dan Quinn, to consider Sowers for a fellowship. 

Young men always get the opportunity to be around people with the decision-making power.”

— Scott Pioli

“Young men always get the opportunity to be around people with the decision-making power,” Pioli said. “This time, it happened for a woman.”

Sowers developed contacts that helped her land jobs with the NFL. In her late 20s, Sowers took a low-paying NFL internship. She was working 40 hours a week with a pay of $10 an hour. 

Mary Jo Kane”

— Progress in women's sports didn't happen because on the 19th hole at some exclusive country club male athletic directors said, 'Oh, my God, I'm so upset that women don't have 50 percent of sport!'

“Progress in women’s sports didn’t happen because on the 19th hole at some exclusive country club male athletic directors said, ‘Oh, my God, I’m so upset that women don’t have 50 percent of sport,'” said Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. “That’s not how change happens.”

Kane added that female coaches and athletes are simply saying, ‘Just give me the opportunity, and I’ll show you what I can do.’

Progress is slow; however, more women are coaching men’s sports teams than ever before. Since 2015, there have been seven full-time women coaches in the NFL; The NBA reported four women coaching staff and in college football, and there are currently three full-time female coaches, and 55 percent of the participants were women of color. 

Serendipitous connections helped pave Sowers’s path. In 2016, Sowers met with the Atlanta Falcons coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, and impressed him immediately. When Shanahan became the head coach of the 49ers, he offered Sowers a position as an assistant coach. 

 

It’s important for all to know that dreams are achieved by first finding someone who sees your worth and value, regardless of your gender, and takes the necessary steps to clear a path, even on the path less traveled.”

— Katie Sowers

“It’s important for all to know that dreams are achieved by first finding someone who sees your worth and value, regardless of your gender, and takes the necessary steps to clear a path, even on the path less traveled,” Sowers said in a post on her personal Facebook page. She thanked Pioli, adding, “The most important words you can ever tell someone is ‘I believe in you.”

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