On August 16th 2015, at an NFL pre-season game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Arizona Cardinals, the first female coach shook hands with the first full-time female official. The on-field moment between coach Dr Jen Welter and official Sarah Thomas represents a lot more than just the start of a game; it also represents the start of more women being represented in the male-dominated world of NFL.
Dr Jen Welter – First female coach in NFL’s 95-year history
She may only be 5ft 2 but her reputation packs a punch. In between earning her Master’s degree in sports psychology and a PhD in psychology, Welter found time to work her way up the NFL ranks.
Her football career kicked off playing rugby at Boston College and before long she was playing with the Dallas Diamonds where she competed in four championship games. Her pay cheque for the 2004 season was $12 (she still carries the cheque with her).
In 2010 she took part in the first Women’s World Championship playing and winning a gold medal with Team USA. The following year they defended their title and brought home yet another gold medal.
In 2014 Jen played as a running back for Texas Revolution, making her the first woman to play in a non-kicking position for a men’s professional football league. The following year she was signed as a coach to the same team.
On July 27th 2015 Bruce Arians, coach of the Arizona Cardinals, gave Jen an internship as an assistant coach during the training camp and preseason with the inside line backers. But this distinction is just the latest of her many achievements.
In the world of NFL, no other woman has achieved as many ‘firsts’ as Jen but she’s not the only one taking charge in a man-dominated sport.
Sarah Thomas – First female official in a full-time position
Sarah gained a basketball scholarship to attend the University of Mobile, and after graduating she continued to play with a Mississippi men’s team.
In 1996 Sarah followed her brother to a Gulf Coast Football Officials Association meeting and by 1999 she officiated her first football game.
In 2009 she refereed the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl game making her the first woman to officiate a major college bowl game.
It was announced in April 2015 that Sarah would become the first full time female to officiate in NFL. On August the 16th she officiated her first preseason game between Kansas City Chiefs and the Arizona Cardinals. Her first regular season game was on September 13th between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans.
So what now? While Sarah Thomas busies herself as a referee, Dr Jen Welter’s time with the Cardinals has for the moment come to an end, although Coach Bruce Arians welcomes her return. ‘Our players only want to be taught how to be better,’ Arians said in a press conference in July. ‘They really don’t care who teaches it to them.’ It’s this type of attitude that will open the doors for women to enter roles historically reserved for men and it’s not too bold to assume other coaches will follow Bruce Arians lead.
As of 2015 little girls who love the game but weren’t aware they were allowed to have NFL dreams can now dream big with two groundbreaking women to idolize. By employing Sarah Thomas and Dr Jen Welter the aspirations of other women seeking opportunities in the sporting world have been validated and within the next few seasons we should expect to see more women progressing into roles within the NFL. It’s about time.