GRAPHIC BY EMMA CHANG
By RENEE WANG
In one of the largest male-dominated sports leagues, Katie Sowers makes history by not only being the first woman instructor, but also the first openly LGBTQ+ coach in the National Football League (NFL).
From her love of football, Sowers began her career in the Women’s Football Alliance where she spent eight years, before her retirement to professional football. Sowers then took on the role of assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers, making history as the second woman to hold a full-time coaching position in the NFL. Presently, Sowers is at the Super Bowl inspiring others and guiding her team to victory.
Since 2017, Sowers has been the only openly LGBTQ+ coach in the NFL, making strides towards advocating for the inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community in the NFL. Without a doubt, her story and message signal a shift in how the sports industry treats others based on sexual orientation for the better.
Despite all the hype and success of Sowers’s achievements, it did not come easy. During her college days, Sowers participated in many sports such as basketball, track and field, and soccer at Goshen College. Upon graduating, she sought a position as a volunteer assistant coach for the Goshen women’s basketball team in 2009. Unfortunately, she was rejected due to concerns based solely on her sexual orientation.
At the time, this instance was far from uncommon. Goshen College followed policies and the laws of Indiana which allowed for hiring decisions to consider sexual orientation. It was only until previous President Barack Obama signed an executive order that added sexual orientation and gender identity protections for federal workers in 2014. However, at Sowers’s period, many could see themselves in her situation where specific policies granted employers to evaluate a prospective position based on other sexual preferences.
During her professional career, Sowers would face countless rejections after leaving Goshen. Often applying to positions of coaching with emails that often were ignored or firmly replied with rejection.
From this, Sowers’ story has been used as an example for many other institutions; in her history with Goshen College, Sowers sought to bring awareness to fix certain policies for the future generation of LGBTQ+ in the industry.
Notably, the history of LGBTQ+ discrimination in sports has been a recurring issue, leading many athletes and staff to avoid coming out in fears of backlash from the public.
According to the 2011 Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s survey, nearly 30 percent of LGBTQ+ athletes have reported being harassed or attacked for gender expression. Even when former professional soccer player Robbie Rogers announced his gay sexuality to the public in 2013, many remained unaffected and in fear of coming out. To the present, many still are afraid to speak out as Sowers’s case remains quite a phenomenon for the NFL.
At the same time, many other players were also under pressure of their team, fans, and career, reinforcing the harsh lack of inclusivity in the sports industry.
In light of Sowers’s situation, it was highly likely for her to face discrimination from her sexual orientation as well as her gender. Both subjects coincide as a way for employers to push away prospective athletes and coaches which leads to the precedent of many shying away from the topic in order to not jeopardize their careers.
Nevertheless, there have been many like Sowers and Rogers who try to use their stories to challenge the issue. For instance, Sowers stated in a Washington Post report that she was a very inexperienced NFL coach since she never had the opportunity to play on a college team or network with others in the field. From a third-person perspective, with her characteristics and lack of experience, chances of her dream being achieved were at odds. However, after a few years and a brief meeting with the head coach of the 49ers Kyle Shanahan, Sowers now is organizing practices, making plays for the team, and ultimately, encouraging the incoming generation to freely express themselves under the patriarchal system.
Essentially, with all of the excitement and hype around Sowers, it should be noted that it was not her nor the team’s goal to make a statement. Sowers’s intention is to bring awareness as well as imagine a future where one-day people would judge others based on their skills and capability, rather than gender or sexuality.
Despite this, Sowers has undoubtedly made her mark in the sports culture as her position is impactful for many females and members of LGBTQ+ who, in the future, will work in the sports industry.