The National Football League’s 54th Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers was full of firsts.
The Chiefs, who emerged victorious by a final score of 31-20, claimed their first Lombardi trophy since the fourth-ever Super Bowl back in 1970 when the championship game was a battle between the American Football League (AFL) and the National Football League (NFL).
Patrick Maholmes, starting quarterback for Kansas City, became the youngest shot-caller to ever win the Super Bowl and Superbowl MVP honors at just 24 years of age.
It can be noted that one may be overlooking a major stride in history that was made that Sunday. It was a stride that did not originate from the winner’s side, nor between the lines of Hard Rock Cafe Stadium.
Katie Sowers, an offensive assistant coach for the 49ers, became the first female to ever roam the sidelines of the NFL’s premier game as well as the first openly gay coach — male or female — the league has ever seen.
Sowers first got her chance in the NFL back in 2016 when she was coaching a fifth-grade girls basketball team in Kansas City, Missouri. It was there when she met Scott Pioli, father to one of the players Sowers coached who also happened to be the former general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs from 2009-12.
It was Pioli who opened the door for Sowers after becoming the assistant General Manager (GM) of the Atlanta Falcons in 2014. He vouched for Sowers to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, resulting in a training camp gig through the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship that aims to increase minority hires across the NFL.
“Young men always get the opportunity to be around people with the decision-making power,” Pioli said to The New York Times. “This time, it happened for a woman.”
From there, Sowers took the foot she got in the door and busted right through it, using her prior experience as both player and general manager of the Women’s Football Alliance’s Kansas City Titans to impress, among many others, Atlanta’s offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
“She was a minority intern in Atlanta for us where they come for a couple of weeks in training camp,” said Shanahan. “I didn’t know her until then, and they put her with us on offense. She got to hang around us and she did a real good job helping our receivers out there just with scripts and things like that.”
When Shanahan moved from the Falcons to become head coach of the 49ers in 2017, Sowers called asking for a similar internship role in the Bay Area. As was the case down in Atlanta, Sowers impressed those she worked with, earning a full-time offensive assistant position as a result of all her hard work.
“I know our receiver coach told me how much she helped them just organizing everything with the scripts, helping the players out, just going over stuff with them when he wasn’t able to,” said Shanahan. “I knew how I felt about Katie. It was a pretty easy decision for us, and we wanted her to stay around and be a part of it.”
Sowers isn’t the only female with a full-time coaching gig. Callie Brownson worked for the Buffalo Bills last season as a full-time coaching intern and is now the Cleveland Browns’ Chief of Staff. Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar are part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an assistant defensive line and assistant strength and conditioning coach, respectively.
Since 2015, the NFL has seen seven full-time female coaches as well as 15 coaching interns, a growing snowball effect that should only continue as more and more young women draw inspiration from those roaming the sidelines, including the one featured in a Microsoft commercial.
“She (Sowers) has more knowledge than what people expect from a game standpoint, for sure,” said second-year Niners wide receiver Richie James via NFL.com. “She works hard at her craft, just as much as [the players] do. She loves it, she loves the game as much as we do. You gotta respect it.”
“When you have someone who’s like that,” said Shanahan, “I don’t really think about whether she’s a man or a woman. I think about how much she can help us, and that’s what made it easy.”