Fourth and Goal—It's Now or Never for Jen Welter

Well, well, well. What have I missed? Time sure flies after June. Might as well take out your Christmas tree after the Fourth. It looks like I left the sports world 74 days ago and woke up to a whole new universe. Maybe I slept too much. I knew mono, pneumonia and unemployment made you tired. But this tired? The calendar still reads 2015, not 2040, right?

The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals. Fair enough, not a surprise at all. Next.

The United States Women’s National Team beat Japan to win its third World Cup. Heartwarming and a great redemption story, sure, but not all that shocking. It appears less and less incredible considering the Women’s World Cup fields five legitimate contenders. FiveThirtyEight gave only five nations greater than 6% odds to win the tournament. Next.

The NFL upheld the full, four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Shocking, crazy, surreal. Illegal? For the sake of time, space and my own credibility, cite my last post for my opinion on the matter. For now, people may say I’m at least “generally aware” that I broke my laptop, let alone a few cell phones, upon a certain hearing outcome. I digress. Next.

A woman named an NFL coach. Okay, I must have slept through a coma.

Michael Wifall / Flickr

Michael Wifall / Flickr

For those of you sleeping under a rock, much like myself, the Arizona Cardinals announced the hiring of Jen Welter, one of seven intern coaches added to the NFL team. What makes Jen different from the other six intern coaches? Well, to state the obvious, Cardinal’s head coach Bruce Arians hired a woman.

A woman serving as an assistant coach in the National Football League: What a moment. Think of what the NFL meant a decade ago. The league proved the ultimate macho-man sport, a league marred with misogyny. People only saw women on the sidelines, holding pom-poms and cheering for their favorite teams. Before this news broke, it appeared nothing changed. Domestic abuse proved a glaring issue in today’s game. Just a month ago, the NFL reduced Greg Hardy’s suspension from ten games to four games despite a two month NFL investigation concluding Hardy brutally assaulted his former girlfriend, Nicole Holder. Testimony from Holder, under oath, accused Hardy of choking, hitting and threatening to kill Holder. Already convicted, Hardy deserved to spend this next month behind bars. However Holder chose not to cooperate with prosecutors, resulting in a dropped case.

Jen Welter represents a new hope. Her hiring shatters the half-century, barbed wire laced gender barrier plaguing the NFL. A former rugby player at Boston College, Welter played for the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Football Alliance. With a degree in sports psychology and a Ph.D in psychology she proves more than qualified to operate in a competitive sports environment. In fact, Welter coached linebackers and special teams for the Texas Revolution of the Champions Indoor Football League—a men’s professional league, I might add.

The Arizona Cardinals assigned the NFL’s first woman coach of any sorts to work with inside linebackers. Coaches designate the inside linebacker position as arguably the most physically grueling. Players at the position project over a hundred tackles per season, meet blockers at all angles, and need a powerful enough physique to endure constant demolition. Just ask Ray Lewis:

In many respects, people may doubt a woman has the capability to coach a job she struggles to physically relate to. This argument is moot considering the position requires just as much, if not more, cerebral and strategic input than sheer bulk.

If Welter succeeds at her job, she destroys a long, troublesome stigma suggesting women have no place managing a team on the gridiron. After all, the position she coaches thrives off ill-conceived ideas of manhood promoted by the NFL over past decades: toughness and superiority. San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon offers optimism toward Welter’s success. Hammon, the first full-time female assistant coach in any of North America's four major professional sports leagues, recently won the NBA Summer League title as the San Antonio Spurs’ summer league head coach.

Although Jen Welter has a long road ahead, her one small step to the sideline represents a far greater leap for gender equality in the entire world of sports.

What a universe I woke up to. God speed ahead.

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