It has been a big week for women in professional sports. The WNBA announced the average players salary was going to be a six-figure pay cheque which marks a 50 per cent increase and in Major League Baseball, the San Francisco Giants hired Alyssa Nakken as the first female full-time assistant coach.
Jen Welter knows all about breaking barriers in sports. In 2015 she made history and headlines after joining the Arizona Cardinals as an intern assistant coach, becoming the first woman to get an NFL coaching position at any level.
“For me, I know it was tough because there had never been a female coach in the NFL,” Welter told CityNews before speaking at the She Can Coach panel at Ryerson University. “So even as one of the best female players in the world it never crossed my mind that I could coach.”
Welter played 14 years of professional football and helped Team USA win two gold medals. She says there were multiple obstacles for her to overcome to gain respect from NFL players but her team quickly caught on that she was more than qualified for the job. While she helped make progress for women in the NFL, she thinks there is one major sports league that is setting the tone for inclusivity.
“I think the NBA particularly has done a fantastic job showing how the needle can be moved in terms of coaching and for front office staff they are really giving women the opportunity to stay with the game they love. They will probably have the first female head coach in the four major leagues.”
There are currently 11 female assistant coaches in the NBA including Brittni Donaldson, who was hired by the Toronto Raptors in 2019, making her the youngest female assistant in the league.
Women also fill several key roles within the Raptors organization, from their Director of Communications Jennifer Quinn to Teresa Resch, who is the team’s Vice-President of Basketball Operations.
Welter says the NFL could learn from the NBA’s model for success.
“People want to put football on the same level and it hasn’t moved as fast but the truth is there are not feeder systems where girls have the same opportunity to grow up the way they do in basketball. So now, naturally, the needle shouldn’t move as fast because what has to happen is we have to develop pipelines for the girls to get opportunity early and to be able to see that it was even possible.”
This year Welter became the first female coach in the Madden NFL video game series. She also as a PhD in Psychology and a Masters Degree in Sports Psychology.