The NFL is adding its first full-time female official this season, and one team is breaking another barrier during training camp.
Via Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, the Cardinals are hiring Jen Welter for a coaching position through training camp and the preseason, making her what is believed to be (and almost certainly) the first female to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.
They’re also hiring former Steelers linebacker Levon Kirkland as the inaugural participant in the Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship, and that’s great.
But the news here is a female coach, at a time when Sarah Thomas is about to go to work for the league in stripes, and when Becky Hammon just coached the NBA San Antonio Spurs’ summer league team after spending last year as an assistant coach on Gregg Popovich’s staff.
“I wanted to open that door,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Coaching is nothing more than teaching. The one thing I’ve learned from players: all they want to know is ‘How 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.’
“I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity through this internship to open some doors.”
Arians said after checking with several veteran players, ‘they were all cool” and added: “It’s not going to be a distraction in any way.”
Welter will work with the inside linebackers, and she’ll bring a unique background. In 2014, she played running back and special teams for the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution, becoming the first female to play a non-kicking position in a men’s pro football league. This spring, she was hired to coach linebackers and special teams.
She played rugby at Boston College, and has played women’s football at several levels. The 37-year-old also holds a master’s degree in sport psychology and a PhD in psychology.
Kirkland’s position is a two-year gig as part of the fellowship, and reunites him with a number of former Steelers with the Cardinals. On its own, it’s a significant piece of news, and furthers Bidwill’s commitment to creating minority opportunities in the NFL.