Usually the only women you see on or around NFL sidelines are cheerleaders, trainers, or sideline reporters. Not so at the Arizona Cardinals training camp that opened last Saturday. An unusual sight will greet you as you watch the team run through drills and scrimmages: an athletic woman in team gear exhorting behemoth men about tackling, positioning, and play calls. Jen Welter made history this week as the first female coach in the NFL when Arizona brought her to camp to work with the Cardinals’ linebackers. While her position isn’t prominent or permanent, it is certainly significant.
Welter is not the first woman to break into the coaching ranks in men’s professional sports. The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon as an assistant coach before the 2014-15 season, and she led their summer league team to the title just a few weeks ago. Nancy Lieberman, who previously coached in the NBA Developmental League, joined the Sacramento Kings staff this year.
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While several of these women had their own successful athletic careers, all of them were hired for off-field positions. The athletic difference between men’s and women’s sports is not a gap that has been or will be easily bridged. The most notable trait, though, is rarity. There just aren’t very many women working in leadership for men’s professional sports teams.
Sports are entertainment, just like television, movies, or music. But in TV and movies, women are power players. In the music industry, entire record labels answer to them. The disparity in top-level professional sports reeks of a sort of misogynistic paternalism from a bygone era. While much of society is progressing (though still with much progress to be made), sports lag decades behind. This is unjust. Whether it’s passively accepted or actively defended, one group of people (men) is highly valued while another (women) is excluded from opportunities at which they deserve a fair chance.
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Some of you will balk at this. I know because I used to as well. I simply ask you to consider why. Why does the idea of a woman coaching your favorite team bother you? Shouldn’t we leave the “no girls allowed” sign in the tree house with Hobbes? It’s not defending a biblical standard or a theological principle; it’s simply supporting biases and exclusion.
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