Another barrier has been broken in the NFL — and for women in sports.
On Monday, the Arizona Cardinals announced the hiring of Jen Welter to the team’s coaching staff. It is believed that she is the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL. Welter will work with the Cardinals’ inside linebackers and will coach throughout training camp and the preseason as a training camp/preseason intern.
“Coaching is nothing more than teaching,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said Monday, according to the team’s website. “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 for her.”
Welter joins the short list of women’s coaches in the “big four” professional sports in North America. The most notable is Becky Hammon, an assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Hammon recently made news when she led the Spurs to the Las Vegas Summer League title this month as head coach.
Welter also isn’t the only female pioneer in the NFL this season. Sarah Thomas is the NFL’s first female official, and she will be a line judge for the 2015 season.
In February 2014, Welter made history when she suited up for the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League and played running back. In her first carry, the 5-foot-2-inch, 130-pounder was pummeled for a loss on the play, getting stuffed by Cedric Hearvey — who is listed as 6-foot-4, 245 pounds — of the North Texas Crunch. But Welter got right back up, and she immediately showed she wasn’t afraid.
“I said (to Hearvey), ‘Is that all you got?'” Welter said after the play, according to The Dallas Morning News. “They (Crunch players) were getting all alive, and I had to say something. I didn’t want them to think I was intimidated.”
Welter made history again this past February, becoming the first female coach in a men’s professional football league when hired by the Revolution to coach linebackers and special teams.
At the NFL owners meetings in Arizona in March, Arians was asked about the possibility of women coaching in the NFL.
“The minute they can prove they can make a player better, they’ll be hired,” he said.
Soon after that, according to the Cardinals website, Arians heard from the coach of the Revolution, saying the organization had a woman on the coaching staff that was worth a look.
Welter played 14 seasons of professional football, mostly in the Women’s Football Alliance. She holds a master’s degree in sports psychology and a doctorate in psychology, and she won two gold medals playing for Team USA in the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship in 2010 and 2013.