Washington-Cleveland a Historic Game For Women in the NFL
A quick glance at the Week 3 schedule and Washington (1-1) at Cleveland (1-1) doesn’t exactly stand out among the eight games played during Sunday early’s slate.
But a closer look, as spotlighted by the NFL’s Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Sam Rapoport, and some major glass will be broken.
This Sunday’s @WashingtonNFL vs. @Browns on @NFLonFOX will mark the first regular season game in @NFL history to have a female coach on both sidelines and a female official.— Sam Rapoport (@samrap10) September 24, 2020
To all the girls/women who love 🏈 as much as we do, this is your game. #ifyoucanseeit #forwardprogress pic.twitter.com/HxoUUjMtJa
On the Washington sideline will stand Jennifer King, a full-year coaching intern who is assisting with the running backs. King was a seven-time All-American quarterback and wide receiver for the Carolina Phoenix women’s tackle team. She successfully transitioned into the coaching ranks, starting with women’s basketball where she was the head coach of Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte. While at Johnson and Wales, which is adjacent to the Panthers training facility, King would eye Panthers’ practices from afar envisioning life in the NFL.
Through the NFL’s Women’s Careers in Football Forums, Rapoport’s brainchild, King connected with then Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Rivera offered King an offseason internship where she worked with the team’s running backs, including Christian McCaffrey.
King would go on to coach in the short-lived Alliance of American Football before landing as an offensive assistant coach at Dartmouth. Throughout she stayed connected to Coach Rivera, who she impressed enough during her Panthers stint that he asked her to join his new staff in Washington.
Callie Brownson, the Chief of Staff to Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski also has football in her veins. Brownson played football in middle school and would ultimately become an all-American for the D.C. Divas of the Women’s Football Alliance.
Brownson landed a scouting internship with the New York Jets after attending the first Women’s Careers in Football forum in 2017.
“That was where I was like, ‘This is where I belong,'” Brownson told clevelandbrowns.com. “I knew it was going to be hard and it was going to be tough to make it a permanent thing but I remember leaving there and saying, ‘I’ve got to get back.'”
The following year after a two-week coaching internship at Dartmouth, Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens, with the entire team present, offered Brownson a job on the last day of her stint. Brownson was officially a full-time offensive quality control coach, and also the first full-time female coach in Division I history.
Brownson again attended the Women’s Careers in Football Forum, this time as a speaker. At the forum she was able to chat with Bills coach Sean McDermott who came away impressed with her energy and strategic knowledge. McDermott offered her a two-week internship last training camp. Brownson thrived and McDermott extended her internship to the entire season.
Brownson’s stellar reputation only grew and when Kevin Stefanski, a young, progressive coach was hired by the Browns this offseason, he offered Brownson a job as his Chief of Staff. It’s a role similar to the one Stefanski held with the Vikings when he broke into the league in 2006. Brownson is effectively Stefanski’s jack (Jill)-of-all-trades eyes and ears when it comes to all levels of coaching, personnel, and public relations.
Not many people utter Sarah Thomas’s name these days which is exactly what you want as an NFL official. After completing the NFL’s training program, Thomas was hired in 2015 to be a down judge (a position formerly known as head linesman). After earning praise from coaches, players and colleagues, Thomas became the first female on-field official to work an NFL playoff in 2019.
She grew up a multi-sport athlete, earning a basketball scholarship. After her on court career wound down, Thomas’s brother suggested she channeled her love of sports into officiating. Soon she was working high school games, steadily moving up the ranks, and in 2007 became the first women to officiate a major college football game.
The opportunities for women in football roles have only grown exponentially since the NFL invested in Rapoport’s vision of creating a true pipeline. Since the forum began four years, 98 women have received job offers from NFL teams spanning coaching, scouting, analytics and beyond.
When a female coach graces each sideline on Sunday, and a women is officiating, history will be made and chills will be had for those who believe in equality and opportunity. It’s also increasingly clear that this will not be a one-time occurrence