Turning Over the Ball to Women


Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Welter, @welter47 on Instagram

Dr. Jennifer Welter has changed history by becoming the first woman to coach in the NFL. Now, she instructs young girls on how to be successful in football and encourages them to pursue their dreams (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Welter, @welter47 on Instagram).

Typically when people think of sports fans, they largely think of men. However, this idea is starting to change as women start to become more interested and more involved in the inner workings of sports, especially football. Many people have differing opinions on women who are involved in sports; some people find it normal while others view it as strange for a woman to not only care but be invested in a typical “male” sport. Football as a whole continues to be a male dominated sport, and The National Football League (NFL) exemplifies this. According to CNBC, women account for half of the NFL’s fan base, but only account for one third of their employees. The NFL is actively taking steps to diminish these startling percentages, but despite this, there has not been a single female head coach. However, some women have held lower level coaching positions. Multiple women have bucked that stereotypical gender role and are now contributing greatly to the world of sports, and one of the best examples is Dr. Jennifer Welter.

“Women are just as capable as men, and if they have the skills, then they should be able to play or coach. If the NFL doesn’t ever take steps to improve this gender gap, then nothing will ever change,” said junior Sarah Buckmaster.

Welter was a 5’2, 130 pound running back for Boston College. Over the years, very few women have played football on a college level, but the few that did play in an upper level typically played positions that are considered less physical, such as kicker or quarterback. Welter, however, did not choose to take that path, but instead, she chose a position that is significantly more physical. In order to be a successful running back, besides being heavier, players must have strength and power. Running back is one of the most difficult positions because players tend to take a large beating when trying to run the ball through a defensive line. Playing as a running back is a difficult position for large guys, but Welter did not care. She showed extreme levels of determination when deciding to play in this position.

“Some women have been playing football their whole lives and are possibly just as good as men. Coaching is the same. If they are knowledgeable, then they should be able to coach,” said junior Riya Patel.

After a successful college football career, Welter spent 14 years in women’s professional football, where she won four National Championships and two gold medals as a member of Team USA in the International Federation of American Football’s (IFAF) Women’s World Championship. After her extremely successful career in women’s professional football, in 2014, Welter became the first female to play as a running back for a men’s professional football league. Then in early 2015, Welter interned with the Arizona Cardinals and then went on to work as an assistant coach for the Cardinals, making her the first female coach in the NFL.

“I think there should be female coaches not only in the NFL but in all sports. A coach is a coach. The team should respect and listen to a coach regardless of their gender. If female coaches are given jobs in all levels of football, then by the time guys make it to the NFL, they will be used to having female coaches,” said junior Danny Robinson.

Since breaking every glass ceiling within the football world, Welter has committed herself to making opportunities for girls who want to become involved in football. She leads camps called GRRRidiron Girls Flag Football Camp, which attracts hundreds of girls in each city. At these camps, girls, ages six to eighteen, are taught skills, such as snapping, throwing, catching, blitzing, covering, and running the ball, for positions such as quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, center, linebacker, safety, and cornerback. Notice that she does not only teach positions like quarterback and kicker, but instead teaches the majority of positions in football in order to encourage girls to play the position they want to, not the position they are “supposed” to.

“Our purpose is to empower young women to play big, dream bigger, and provide the game plan to turn their dreams into a reality,” said Welter on her camp’s webpage.

Coaches are hired based on experience, knowledge, and credentials. Most people argue that a female coach cannot be possible because she will have a limited knowledge in, not only football but, coaching. However, Welter’s career in football speaks for itself when questioning her comprehension of football and experience in the sport. In addition to being extremely qualified based on her knowledge of football, Welter also has received a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s in Sports Psychology, and a doctorate degree in Psychology. Having these credentials makes her extremely qualified to act as a coach because she has the knowledge to understand how to best improve the players.

“The best people should become coaches or employees and that is all up to a franchise to determine who is the most experienced and who is the best for the job. It shouldn’t be a question of gender,” said senior Graysen Dotson.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Welter, @welter47 on Instagram
Welter’s camps take place all over the country and aim to improve the football skills of young girls (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Welter, @welter47 on Instagram).

In addition to an increase of the number of female coaches, there has been a huge increase in the number of female football fans. As female sports fans, many women face adversary in sports conversations. Women are accused of “not knowing what they are talking about” or being “out of place.” Sports are not meant for men. They are meant for everyone. Therefore, when a woman is contributing to a sports conversation, people must think, “if one of the men said this, would I make a comment about him not knowing or understanding the topic?” If the answer to that question is no, then the comment is off base and should not be said.

“Most of the time women aren’t taken seriously when it comes to sports. Guys tend to think that a woman doesn’t know what she is talking about, but when a woman does, they feel almost angry and shocked at the prospect of her knowing more than them,” said Buckmaster.

In the end, coaches should be determined by how successful and qualified they are and not by their gender. Women have proven that they deserve to hold coaching positions, but they will continue to work to improve the number of women working within the sports world.

“In anything, it’s important to have the most qualified people at the table and to realize that every voice is valuable. And it may be a different voice. I add the perspective to be able to help them maybe [in a way that] the guy coaches wouldn’t. And I think anytime you increase diversity into an equation, you’re going to maximize the opportunities for connection and hopefully to make sure all voices are heard,” said Welter in an interview with NPR.

As time goes on, female football fans everywhere remain hopeful at the anticipation of more representation of women in the football world. This hope is only made possible by determined women such as Welter. Women should feel encouraged by seeing that being successful in football is possible. It just takes perseverance and courage.

“Greatness is not an accident. Greatness is a choice you make over and over. And when you choose personal greatness – big or small – it becomes a part of who you are. Don’t get me wrong: just like you, I have had my days when I would not have chosen greatness on my own. It took work. It took strategy. It took perseverance. Don’t leave your greatness to chance,” said Welter in her book, Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL.