A few quick thoughts for now.
Welter, just hired by the Arizona Cardinals as a coaching intern during training camp. is believed to be the first woman to be hired in any coaching capacity by an NFL team.
Last year, she became the first woman to coach any professional football team – she was the linebackers and special teams coach for the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League. Before that she played in a woman’s professional league.
Cardinals’ coach Bruce Arians sounded an awful lot like Greg Popovich – who made Becky Hammon the first full time female coach in NBA history – in explaining why he hired Welter:
“Coaching is nothing more than teaching. One thing I have learned from players is ‘How are you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, I’ll listen.'”
Based on the reporting so far, it seems unlikely that Welter will be part of the Cardinals’ coaching staff once the regular season kicks off in early September. But it’s a significant development nevertheless, insofar as football is arguably the ultimate macho bastion in mainstream American sporting culture, as well as by far the most intensively covered sport in the country. Thus, Welter will, I think we can assume, receive a lot media coverage over the next six weeks, as will the players she’s coaching. It’s a sign of Arians’ confidence as a coach, including the respect he commands from his players – again like Popovich – that he isn’t worried about stupid shit being directed at Welter by her charges. But one presumes that every even mildly off-kilter interaction between Welter and a player is going to merit scrutiny. It certainly adds a compelling layer to the Cards’ training camp.
A few weeks ago, Dave Berri wrote a piece about the absence of women coaches in men’s sports. In that piece, Berri described this dearth as a kind of market inefficiency, one that contradicts the general presumption that sports are the ultimate meritocracy:
So why does such an uneven playing field for professional coaches exist? It benefits two groups who often push back against change: less-qualified male coaches and team management. If the talent pool for coaches included all qualified men and women, it could mean less-qualified male coaches might not be able to get jobs. It could also mean more work on the part of decision-makers to find and hire top talent.
In basketball, soccer and tennis in particular, the almost total absence of women as coaches in the male version of each sport is stark. Women have been competing in these sports at world class levels for decades now. And lots of men coach women in these sports. In this regard, the sexism is glaring.
Football is different. Relatively few girls play football, and there are a paucity of organized, competitive outlets for women (which is probably to the good for the sake of women’s long-term health and well-being). Of those that do exist, none receive any real media exposure and none allow a participant to make a living. In other words, the available pool of potential coaches, draws from a tiny number of former players. As Berri noted, men are coaching softball even though they haven’t played it (and there are men coaching men who also never played the sport in question at a competitive level). But football has not only been an all-boys-club. It’s also one sport that has developed essentially no parallel apparatus as an outlet for girls and young women and there’s no analogue sport for football, as softball and baseball are. All of which makes Jen Welter unusual in a way that Becky Hammon, for example, isn’t.
I wonder if HBO now wishes that the Cardinals were the subject of Hard Knocks this summer…