By Paul K. DiCostanzo Managing Editor
In the long shadow of a Tom Brady suspension, deflated footballs, and a possible cover-up, a historic occasion in the NFL has gone largely unrecognized. Professional football player and coach Jen Welter was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as a coach, making her the first woman in NFL history to serve as a coach. Not only is she the first woman to undertake that position, she is a linebacker coach. The linebacker position is one of the most dynamic and bone crushing positions in the game of football.
The Arizona Cardinals and Head Coach Bruce Arians are coming off a 11-5 2014 regular season, and a NFC Wildcard playoff birth. Welter joins an Arizona team whose defense was the primary source of their 2014 success. Arians brought Welter into the organization recognizing her immense experience, education, and killer attitude. Welter brings a Master’s degree in sports physiology, 14 years as a professional football player with the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), and a year with the Texas Revolution of the men’s Indoor Football League as a running back and special teams player in 2014.
In recent years there have been a handful of stories of women who have entered men’s college football as place kickers or punters, positions which are considered largely non-contact in nature. Welter’s responsibilities are very different because the linebacker position is one of the most physical in the game. In the case of the Cardinals Welter’s position is even more critical. The Cardinals utilize a 3-4 defensive scheme that relies heavily on their linebacker corps to attack the quarterback. Consequently the Cardinals are heavily reliant on their linebackers to achieve defensive dominance. Welter serving as a linebacker coach is a firm endorsement of her skills, knowledge, and experience.
Jen Welter is not alone in her achievement for women in the NFL this off-season. Sarah Thomas is the first woman who will serve as an official in the NFL this year. Given the dramatic headlines that have dominated the NFL this off-season, the NFL has quietly made significant strides for women in the game over the past year. It is no secret that professional sports have traditionally been an exclusively male profession, though the momentous strides by Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas clearly demonstrate that the game is opening up to women as well. In a professional league as competitive as the NFL, the powers that be cannot deny the contribution of talented and dedicated women will only improve the quality of the game America loves.
Sources: BBC World Service, NFL.com, Associated Press, azcentral.com, acmepackingcompany.com