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Women Make History, Defy the Norm in the NFL

Photo courtesy of The Washington Football Team

By Kendall Lanier, Staff Reporter

The Cleveland Browns and Washington Football Team matchup on Sept. 27, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio, was more than just a regular-season game but rather a historical moment. For the first time, three women made their mark on the field: two coaches on each sideline and one official.

Jennifer King, who became the first Black female to coach in the National Football League (NFL) is a full-year coaching intern with the Washington Football Team. Callie Brownson is the Chief of Staff for the Cleveland Browns Head Coach, Kevin Stefanski. Sarah Thomas, who is the NFL’s first female official, is a down and line judge.

Before this historic moment, all of these women have received several great accolades before their achievements in the NFL.

King was hired by the NFL in February, earlier this year. She was a seven-time All-American quarterback and receiver in the Women’s Football Alliance from 2006 to 2017 with the Carolina Phoenix. Beyond playing the game herself, she was a quality control coach at Dartmouth College and an assistant receivers coach and special teams coach for the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football. King later went on to become an intern with the Carolina Panthers in 2018. She is currently working with running backs on the Washington Football Team.

King is bringing diversity to the NFL, being a female and being Black. The NFL has a history of struggling with their lack of diversity in higher positions, so being a woman of color in the coaching staff is something to celebrate.

Brownson’s qualifications show that she is more than ready for this chapter of her life with the NFL. She also played in the Women’s Football Alliance, along with being a four-time All-American with the D.C. Divas from 2010 to 2017.

Brownson received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management from George Mason University. She got her first taste of coaching football at her high school alma mater, Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia, as an assistant coach.

She began breaking barriers as she became the first woman to be a full-time NCAA Division 1 coach as offensive quality control for Dartmouth College in 2018. She has held various internships such as the Buffalo Bills coach and one with the New York Jets as a scout. Brownson was added to the Cleveland Browns staff back in January.

“I never felt defeated if people were skeptical about me. I knew it was going to take a little time, but I knew if I stayed true to why I was there, they would see it as well,” Brownson told Jim Donovan in an interview.

The third woman at the game, Sarah Thomas, who is currently taking the NFL by storm, became an official in 2015; however, this is not Thomas’ first time making history. She was the first woman to officiate a college bowl game that occurred in a Big Ten stadium. Along with that, in her home state of Mississippi, she was the first female to officiate a Division 1-A high school football game. Thomas is considerably a pioneer in the NFL.

It is not hard to see that the NFL is a male-dominated industry, so women welcomed into this space, while breaking this cycle of systemic patriarchy, creates positive change for women all over. Their strength and courage clearly show as they do their jobs confidently while being the only women on their respective staffs. The three women have received tremendous support from the league.

The Washington Football Team tweeted “We are more than proud of [Jennifer King] and all the women who are breaking barriers in our league !!”.

From the looks of their previous accomplishments, these women are just getting started. They are ready to show that women are as capable of doing their job in sports as men are, if not more than capable.