Since capturing her second gold medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships, Dr. Jen Welter has developed a talent for breaking barriers and simultaneously inspiring others. Since playing and subsequently coaching with the IFL’s Texas Revolution, Welter has carved a remarkable sporting legacy, emerging as a pop culture icon.
As training camps begin in the National Football League, Welter shall make her presence felt. Hired by the Arizona Cardinals as one of seven interns to participate in a coaching role, she will be working with the inside linebacker corps, making her the first woman in the history of the NFL to serve as a coach. As a side note, she was joined among the new faces on the Cardinals coaching staff by Levon Kirkland, a recipient of the Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship.
Welter’s season as a coach for the IFL’s Texas Revolution earlier this year was one that mirrored another great accomplishment for women coaching in football. Former Lethbridge Steel quarterback Kessie Stefanyk not only became the first female coach in the history of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, she would prevail in her coaching debut.
Although seasons in all sports tend to be measured in terms of failure and success by championships, there was no failure for Welter. Even though the Revolution were defeated in the IFL championship game, denying Welter an opportunity to add another championship to her growing list of accomplishments, her landmark season represented a greater victory, one in which she proved that women are not only ready for the responsibilities of coaching in football, but can be looked upon as equals. It was the type of empowering performance that certainly made an impression on the Cardinals.
Making news headlines the world over, her signing with the Cardinals was covered from a range of media services ranging from CNN to Cosmopolitan. Not only did she receive an outpouring of support from those in the women’s football community, where she spent over a decade with the Dallas Diamonds, some highly notable individuals showed their encouragement on twitter.
From United States Vice President Joe Biden congratulating her, to women’s sports pioneer Billie Jean King proudly acknowledging this historic hire, there is a growing momentum behind Welter.
With segments of her press conference broadcast on the NFL Network’s popular program, Total Access, Welter was gracious in acknowledging not just head coach Bruce Arians for providing her with this opportunity but displayed class by recognizing the Bidwill family, who have owned the Cardinals for over 50 years.
Of note, the Bidwill family was the first to hire an African American woman (Adele Harris) to serve in an executive capacity in the NFL. Throughout the seasons, the club also helped increase the presence of minorities in pro football by hiring Bob Wallace as the first African American to handle player contracts.
During the 2004 NFL season, the Bidwill family featured the first NFL club to have a pair of African-Americans serve in the general manager and coaching positions. The acquisition of Welter only helps to extend their proud legacy of opening doors in football.
In the photo opportunity that followed the introductory press conference, Welter proudly put on the Cardnials helmet with a winning smile that was impossible not to notice, creating an iconic image. Afterwards, Welter lifted said helmet over her toned, muscular shoulders like a trophy, certainly a great victory for women in football.