Katie Sowers is breaking down barriers like they’re dominoes.
This month, Sowers became the second full-time female assistant coach in the NFL, when she was hired by the San Francisco 49ers as an offensive assistant, with a focus on wide receivers.
Sowers, a lesbian, is also the first openly LGBTQ coach in NFL history.
“No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are,” Sowers told Outsports. “There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation.
“The more we can create an environment that welcomes all types of people, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, the more we can help ease the pain and burden that many carry every day.”
Sowers has played football since her childhood, and went on to play pro football in the Women’s Football Alliance. Playing multiple positions on offense and defense — which is common in women’s football — Sowers helped lead the U.S. team to a women’s world title and gold medal in 2013.
Last year, Sowers worked as a scouting intern with the Atlanta Falcons, where she got to know current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator of the Falcons at the time. This summer, she started working with the 49ers as a coaching intern in the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Fellowship program, which led to her being hired full-time. Now, she will help break down film, help with practice scripts and player rotations, and generally assist the wide receivers in their day-to-day preparations.
In her interview with Outsports, Sowers spoke openly about the importance of representation in professional football.
I am serving as an offensive assistant for the season. In this role, I help with the wide receivers, break down film of opponents we will be facing, assist with practice scripts and player rotations, and really anything that is needed throughout the course of the season.
The most fulfilling aspect is having the ability to impact the lives of these young men chasing their dream of playing in the NFL, as well as serve as a role model for young girls who might happen to see me following my passion. I am a strong believer that the more we can expose children to a variety of different opportunities in life, the better chance they have of finding their true calling.
I would have loved to see women in this role when I was growing up because I think it would have allowed me to follow my passion even earlier. If you can’t see something happen, sometimes it’s hard to believe it can. We don’t know what we don’t know, and I didn’t know football was even a possibility for women.
Women have been making small but significant steps in the NFL coaching ranks in recent years. Jen Welter paved the way when the Arizona Cardinals hired her as an assistant coaching intern for the linebackers during the 2015 preseason. Last season, Kathryn Smith became the first full-time female coach when she was hired as the special teams quality control coach with the Buffalo Bills. This preseason, the New York Jets hired Collette Smith as an intern to work with defensive backs during training camp.
Shanahan has been incredibly impressed with Sowers, dating back to her time in Atlanta.
“She’s a hard worker. You don’t even notice her because she just goes to work and does what’s asked and because of that she’s someone we would like to keep around,” he told the San Jose Mercury News.
Sowers, who wants to be a head coach in the NFL or college one day, says the players have been very supportive, and it has not been hard to earn their respect.
“Katie is a baller, 100 percent,” receiver Marquise Goodwin told Bay Area radio station KNBR. “She understands the game. She’s very familiar with the game. She played in a women’s league and it may be a little different, but she definitely has the attitude it takes to be in that room. She brings a great vibe and she understands so I’m happy that she’s on staff.”