Sports history and American history correlate in many ways. Two biting issues have reverberated in the sports universe since its inception: sexism and racism. It was reported earlier this year that Serena Williams has fewer endorsement deals than Maria Sharapova, which many contributed to misogynoir. Professional women’s soccer players make much less than their male counterparts. And sports journalism is often intentionally cruel to female reporters. Despite this, many women are braving their way through sexist comments and unequal wages, resulting in various milestone occurrences which have paved the way for an all-encompassing acceptance of gender and race within the world of sports.
One such occurrence happened earlier this year when Jennifer Welter became the first female NFL coach, representing the Arizona Cardinal’s inside linebackers. In doing so, she effectively smashed through a glass ceiling that had been previously unscathed.
Though she certainly has a long list of accomplishments to speak of, Welter’s biggest successes include earning a Master’s degree in sports psychology and creating an impressive football resume, breaking into a career that is undoubtedly male centric and often hostile to women’s presence. But Jen Welter has never settled for the sexism she’s faced in her lifetime.
Welter has 15 years of semi-pro women’s league experience under her belt, and four Women’s Football Alliance championship victories to prove it. She also has no problem playing with the boys, holding a full-contact, non-kicking position in a men’s indoor league, which is impressive for a woman of her stature–she weighs in at just 130 pounds at 5’2”.< Welter was the first woman running back for the Champions Indoor Football League.
Athletics aside, Welter has also taken to motivational speaking, catering especially to young women. At a recent press conference, Welter stated:
“It shows [young girls] that anything is possible, and that’s so beautiful. To me, unfortunately, I think the hardest thing in our society right now — no offense — is the media. We [tell] little girls all the time to be beautiful and to do it all the wrong ways. We show them as accessories, for no other better way to put it. We teach them very early on to be pretty, marry well and then act badly, and you’ll get on TV. And then that’s what they grow up thinking that fame is, or success is. I want little girls to grow up knowing that when they put their minds to something, when they work hard, that they can do anything regardless of those things.”
It’s no surprise then that her extensive background in sports psychology and her impressive resume as a player lend themselves naturally to a coaching position. The Cardinals head coach, Bruce Arians has vouched for her credibility on numerous occasions. While Welter was an intern he proudly stated:
“Coaching is nothing more than teaching. 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, I’ll listen.’ I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors for her.”
Her qualifications have since segued her into a coaching position. Having a woman present on the field is an achievement that has the potential to breed rapid growth and understanding through equality. Welter’s accomplishment opens up a door for women in athletics that has previously been slammed shut. It’s quite literally changing the scope of what people perceived as impossible.
Many other male-dominated professions have slowly opened their doors to women.Women are increasingly more represented in the fields of firefighting, police work, and construction, which were once deemed as male-dominated fields. We are seeing the same trend happen slowly in the tech industry, as well.
Kara Swisher is one such example of a leader in technology who has helped inspire other women to join the field.< Swisher, known by some as Tech’s most valuable snoop, motivates women to rise to the top of the tech profession and advocates for a well-rounded and diverse industry. Based on the way she approaches public relations, Kara Swisher has no problem calling out the sexist and racist tendencies within the tech industry and specifically Silicon Valley.
In an article on published on the Wall Street Journal, Swisher states that she primarily attributes laziness as the backbone to these misogynistic attitudes, and stands as a voice of reason within the tech field for women and minorities. She asserts time and time again that in order for gender equality in the workplace to come to fruition, men have to be on board as well. We see examples of this all the time in the tech industry. Although more and more women are earning degrees that would lend well to a job in the technology field, women are leaving the tech industry in droves. Why? Studies suggest that women leave male dominated fields largely due to company culture, and a work environment that is inhospitable to women.
This is part of the reason Jen Welter’s success in the professional sports industry is so profound. For the first time, young girls are able to see a woman occupying a position that was previously only held by men. It opens up an equal playing field.
Other prolific athletes have taken note of Welter’s momentous achievements. This morning the tech magazine Wired announced that the current issue of the magazine was guest edited by the incredible Serena Williams. This collaboration is extremely important for numerous reasons.
In a breakthrough article, Williams mentions the significance of the Rooney rule in the NFL, and highlights several revolutionary figures that are actively promoting social equality through their amazing accomplishments and stories, and includes Welter in that list.
In an article appropriately titled the “10 heroes who are showing the way forward to a better, fairer world for all.” Welter shares a highly motivational personal story:
I grew up in Vero Beach, Florida, where football is kind of a religion. The whole town shuts down for games, and we would all go. I played other sports, like tennis, and team sports, including rugby, in college, but I was just fascinated by football. Right after I graduated, I went to an open tryout for a women’s team, the Massachusetts Mutiny. And I realized, “This is where I’m meant to be.” I left my business career to do it, and the most I was ever paid was literally $1 a game. I love everything about the game. It’s full-contact chess. Most people don’t realize how smart it is. The strategy is what makes it so great.
There wasn’t any thought about a career path with the NFL. We’d joke that it was the No Female League. So when I got the chance to coach this past preseason with the Arizona Cardinals, it was always strange to me when people would say, “You’re in the NFL now, you’re living your dream.” Well, no, this wasn’t a dream I was ever even permitted to have. I think that part of what I’m most proud of is that now other little girls can have that dream.
While change has blossomed and society is becoming more open to women in previously deemed “men’s” sports, one thing — or rather, one person — is ultimately responsible for this landmark advancement in American Football. Jen Welter has risen to the top and this type of earned glory won’t go unnoticed.