Social change comes quickly, almost unexpectedly quickly, these days and for the first time in a long time a positive bit of change hit the NFL on Monday with the announcement that Arizona Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians was making a move to hire what is believed to be the league’s first female coach.
Jen Welter will join Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs in the exclusive club of women who coach men in the pros and, as with Hammon’s hiring, there’s the sense that this is no gimmick. Both Arians and Gregg Popovich are far too savvy for that.
“Coaching is nothing more than teaching,” Arians said on the Cardinals’ Web site. “One thing I have learned from players is, ‘How are you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, man, I’ll listen.’ I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors.”
The timing of the hiring of Welter, who will serve as a training-camp/preseason intern coaching inside linebackers, came as a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t have. There has been a building sense that she was headed for this and that, eventually, she’ll move into a permanent job, then to a coordinator’s position and, possibly sooner than anyone expects, into a head coaching spot.
Already, she’s getting solid locker room support.
Just how did Welter get here? Hard work, obviously, and a stubborn streak fueled by a love of the game. At 37, she brings a doctorate in psychology to the mix, something that will help her cope with nasty comments (and there will be nasty comments) and the locker room culture of the NFL. Neither of those things should catch her off-guard.
Welter comes to her position after playing one game at running back in 2014 for the Texas Revolution, a pro indoor football league team, so no one can say she’s never played the game. The Cardinals say she is the first woman to play a non-kicking position in a pro game and this season, she coached the Revolution’s linebackers and special teams.
She was a linebacker for more than 14 seasons, mostly with the Dallas Diamonds, in the Women’s Football Alliance. She helped the team win four championships.
Earlier this year, Arians addressed the possibility of women coaching in the NFL and a Revolution staffer suggested he meet Welter.
“So she came to one of our OTAs [organized team activities] this spring,” Arians told Peter King. “I found her really passionate about football. I asked if she was serious about it, and if so, I would love to give you the opportunity to coach with us. She jumped on it. She loves to coach.”
Come fall, she might just be on a sideline. Imagine that. Jen Welter coaching during a game and Sarah Thomas, who will be the first female game official after coming up through the college game, working as a line judge. Hopefully, they won’t have a neutral playing field and will be judged, for better or worse, on their performances.
Amy Trask, the former CEO of the Oakland Raiders, said that was her hope as well when Thomas was hired, writing for MMQB:
I also hope that Sarah Thomas is booed.
When Sarah Thomas throws a flag she shouldn’t have thrown—which she will, as all officials do—she should be booed. When Sarah Thomas fails to throw a flag she should have—which she will, as all officials do—she should be booed. Sarah Thomas should be booed as loudly and as resoundingly as her male colleagues are booed.
Gender equality means gender equality. And if gender equality is the expectation, all consequences that flow therefrom must be accepted, whether one likes them or not.
The reaction was, for the most part, pretty cool.