The National Football League is the most popular sport in America. It also perceived as arguably the least inclusive of the four major professional American sports leagues of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and itself. Despite the first openly gay player, Michael Sam, being drafted into the NFL last year, it is difficult for the NFL to fight against perceptions that its league holds on to outdated male stereotypes about “being a man” and its “locker room culture”. The NFL’s Arizona Cardinals have followed in similar footsteps as the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs’ hiring of Becky Hammon last year in hiring a female assistant coach for their staff. The recent hiring of Jen Welter by the Cardinals is believed to make her the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.
It is always easier for history to made a second time than the first time. The NBA has long been the most progressive American pro sports league in terms of hiring practices for minorities in terms of race and gender so it wasn’t surprising that the NBA broke the coaching mold with the hiring of Hammon last year. Hammon’s tenure on the NBA sidelines last year didn’t garner any negative “distraction” and she built off her experiences as an assistant to lead, as the head coach, the Spurs’ NBA Summer League team to the Summer League championship. Of course, basketball is not football, which is considered among the most physically demanding sports on the planet. However, Welter’s resume is more than impressive including being the first woman to play a non-kicking position in a pro game by playing running back for a professional indoor football league team, the Texas Revolution.
As important as Jen Welter’s resume and background in football is the support she has from the Arizona Cardinals organization. Head coach Bruce Arians has been vocal in his support for Welter and the important notion that football coaches are like teachers. The comparison is apt because it means that Welter’s job will be about getting the most out of her students, the Cardinals’ players, through various methods. She will have to access their strengths and weaknesses and show her credibility as a leader throughout training camp. Given her extensive football background, it is likely Welter has faced every verbal or mental challenge that a male-dominated profession like professional football can offer. If given the proper support by the Cardinals organization and the NFL, Welter can show the ability to create more positive history in professional sports.