When the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs face off this weekend in Super Bowl LIV, it will be history-in-the-making—regardless of the outcome of the game. This year, Katie Sowers, assistant coach for the 49ers, is blazing the trail as the first female to coach in a Super Bowl in the history of the National Football League. Sowers is also the first openly gay coach in the NFL.
In the past several years, there has been an influx of female coaches and officials making names for themselves in professional sports. Recently, the San Francisco Giants hired Alyssa Nakken as the first female coach in Major League Baseball. In 2015, the NFL hired its first full-time female referee, Sarah Thomas, who previously was the first woman to officiate a college bowl game. Edniesha Curry became the lone female coach in Division I Men’s College Basketball in 2018, a first for NCAA Division I Athletics.
Victory Monday Mood pic.twitter.com/2O6cEjumkA— Katie Sowers (@KatieSowers) November 25, 2019
Sowers, Nakken, Thomas, and Curry—and many others—are part of a new wave of female coaches and managers entering the professional sports industry. According to Johnson & Wales University professor Patrick Leary, Ed.D., who serves as the department chair for the Sports, Entertainment, Event – Management program, women are becoming more empowered to enter an industry that is traditionally male-run thanks to these monumental women and their impact.
“As an educator and career advisor to many female students with aspirations of pursuing careers in athletic coaching and administration, I am grateful to trailblazing women like Katie Sowers and Alyssa Nakken who are shattering pre-existing sociocultural barriers,” he said.
Read More: The Evolution of Women in Sports
Here’s a look at some of the ways female talent is disrupting pro sports and breaking barriers in the industry.
Across the sports landscape, there is an upsurge of females entering the coaching ranks. This can be in large part attributed to the waning social narrative that women are not equipped or qualified to coach male athletes at the highest level. In addition, The Female Coaching Network was founded to empower and inspire women coaches to create positive culture changes, including breaking down gender barriers in pro sports.
In an effort to support the growth of female involvement in the NFL, the league established the Women’s Careers in Football Forum, which was hosted in February 2019 for the third year in a row. The event welcomed 40 women who are currently working in college football and connected them with other leaders in professional football.
Fight for Equal Pay/ Rights
In the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), a new collective bargaining agreement was reached earlier this month. It promises that players and coaches will earn higher salaries than in previous years, that athletes who are moms will have more support, and that travel conditions will be improved, among other things.
In professional soccer, there has been back-and-forth in a highly publicized gender discrimination lawsuit put forward by the United States Women’s Soccer team. The reigning World Cup champions went to mediation last summer with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) after their second-consecutive World Cup win. Since then, discussions have fizzled out and it seems the two parties are likely headed for a trial. But the fact that the women of the USWNT are taking a stand sets a great example for other organizations and future female coaches and athletes.
According to Leary, these women and organizations are paving the way for future female athletes and coaches by setting a standard of equality and acceptance. “The future for aspiring female coaches and officials is brighter than ever before,” he said.
Learn more about earning your bachelor’s degree in Sports, Entertainment, Event—Management from Johnson & Wales University. For more information, complete the “Request Info” form or call 855-JWU-1881.