National Women’s History Month 2016 & the NFL

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Recently, in 2015, the National Football League (NFL) employed two females for the first time in history. Last year, Sarah Thomas became the NFL’s first female official and Jen Welter became the NFL’s first assistant coach.

Sarah Thomas (Image source:

In April 2015, the NFL announced Sarah Thomas as the first full-time female official in league history. Prior to the announcement, a report from the Baltimore Sun surfaced that Thomas was in line for a promotion. A 19-year veteran, Thomas spent the previous eight years working with Conference USA. She became the first female to officiate an NCAA football game in 2007, and has previously been a finalist for the NFL job, according to a CBS sports news report. In fact, Thomas had been on the league’s radar for seven years. She had previously worked NFL preseason games and training camps. And while she’s acknowledged as the NFL’s first full-time official, technically Shannon Eastin earned the distinction of the first female to officiate an NFL regular-season game when she worked as a replacement ref early in the 2012 season. Thomas’ NFL officiating uniform number is 153.

Dr. Jen Welter (Image source:

Subsequently, the Arizona Cardinals did something that no other NFL team in the history of the league has done before. In July 2015, the team announced its decision to hire Dr. Jen Welter as the first female to coach in the NFL.

Formerly, she served as an intern linebackers coach for the Arizona Cardinals, where her time there has been defined by the bond she has fostered with the players. Cardinals Coach Brice Arians, who’s become known for his efforts to diversify the coaching ranks, downplayed the historic nature of the hiring and hailed Welter’s experience when he announced she would take the position in September 2015. But this is not the first time Welter’s was the first to do something. According to Welter’s website, in February 2015 she became the first woman to coach in a men’s professional football league, when she served as linebacker and special teams coach for the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution. Prior to that, in January 2014 Welter became the first woman to play running back in a men’s professional football season, when she signed with the Revolution.

These efforts highlight the continuous progress and efforts women have made over the years. To put things in perspective, it wasn’t until a little over 40 years ago that Richard Nixon had signed into law the first protection again sex discrimination in education with the signing of Title IX, on June 23, 1972.

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