GET IN THE GAME

The NFL hires its first female coach in history—as an intern

Obsession
Business of Sport
Obsession
Business of Sport

Jen Welter doesn’t obey the rules when it comes to glass ceilings. After playing professional football in women’s leagues in the US for 14 years, in 2014 she became the first female non-kicker to play in a men’s league, the Indoor Football League.

Now, the National Football League’s (NFL) Arizona Cardinals has hired Welter as its newest linebacker coach, marking the first time a woman has held a coaching position in the league’s storied history.

The hiring comes with a catch. According to the Cardinals website, Welter’s official title is “training camp/preseason intern coaching linebackers.” That means she will be an assistant coach in the NFL’s summer training camp, which brings in players that may or may not make up the final roster, before the NFL season starts in early September. Beyond the preseason, her prospects are unclear.

Still, Welter’s hiring is a historic win for women in a sport dominated by men—and mired in sexism. The professional women’s tackle football league Welter once played in, the Women’s Football Alliance, tends to be overshadowed by the Legend’s Football League, formerly known as the Lingerie Football League, which outfits its players in underwear and plays to male-dominated audiences.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has made clear that his interest in Welter is her talent. “If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, man, I’ll listen,” Arians said of his players’ attitude toward the move. “Coaching is nothing more than teaching,” he added.

The move comes after another win for women coaches in professional male sports. The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs recently hired former female basketball star Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, marking the first time a woman had overseen the bench of an NBA team. Hammon went on to lead the Spurs summer league team to a championship as its head coach.

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