Pair of female NFL pioneers become real life superheroes

Both recognized among espnW’s Impact 25, Dr. Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas earned a unique honor. All 25 women recognized for their impact in sport were given the superhero treatment as Marvel Comics and espnW teamed up for a unique and exciting concept. All the subject of unique artwork, the remarkable members of the Impact 25 were depicted as superheroes.

Taking into account that both football and the comics industry were long considered male dominated industries, it was truly fitting that a pair of female artists worked on the renditions of both football pioneers. Welter, who became a household name for her impact as a linebackers coach for the Arizona Cardinals during the 2015 NFL preseason, was drawn by Natacha Bustos. As a side note, Bustos would also do the artwork for Diana Taurasi, another member of the Impact 25.

Sarah Thomas by Nicole Virella and Rachelle Rosenberg / Jen Welter by Natacha Bustos Read More: ESPN and Marvel Display the Heroism of Women in Sports |

Sarah Thomas by Nicole Virella and Rachelle Rosenberg / Jen Welter by Natacha Bustos
Read More: ESPN and Marvel Display the Heroism of Women in Sports |

Nicole Virella and Rachelle Rosenberg teamed up for the rendition of Thomas. The pencils and inks were handled by Virella while Rosenberg took the coloring duties. The first female official in league history, Thomas is part of an exciting time for the growing role of women in football. During the preseason, Thomas would officiate a game featuring the Cardinals, getting the chance to meet Welter. As a side note, Rosenberg also did the coloring for the images of Lauren Greenfield, Chloe Kim and Carli Lloyd, all recognized by espnW.

Perhaps even more unique was the fact that all depictions featured nicknames. Welter went by the sobriquet “The Ball Buster” while Thomas was dubbed “The Penalizer”. As all 25 women were honored at a gala in New York City, they were given a rendition of the artwork in a frame with a bow, a fitting tribute to the gift they provided sports fans and young athletes alike with their aspiring presence.


#jen-welter, #sarah-thomas

NFL Women’s Summit adds to growing momentum of women in football

Part of the excitement of the annual Super Bowl involves a week’s worth of unique and special events. From the “Taste of the NFL”, which features foods from every NFL market, to “The NFL Honors”, a new event is added, which serves to encourage and empower. The inaugural NFL Women’s Summit: “In the Huddle to Advance Women in Sport” is a superlative way to recognize the efforts of women in football. Whether it be through the groundbreaking IFAF Women’s Worlds, USA Football’s initiatives, or other groundbreaking moves, such as Dr. Jen Welter and Katrhyn Smith gaining coaching opportunities, not to mention Sarah Thomas as a line judge, the NFL is working towards setting a positive example of continuing to find ways to influence.

Considering that this year is the 50th Anniversary of the Super Bowl, the Women’s Summit holds an even stronger meaning. While the popular of football is without dispute, its commitment to recognizing the potential of women in football and sport in general, shows remarkable sincerity, reinforced by the attendance of NFL commissioner Roger Goddell. Hosted on February 4 and 5 in San Francisco (the host city for the game), it represented a remarkable gathering of some of the most prominent women in sport and society. Among such women, one holds ownership ties to the Miami Dolphins.

Recognized as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for 2015, Serena Williams and her sister Venus both hold an ownership stake in the Dolphins, the first women of African-American heritage to claim such prestige. Serena was on-hand as she was interviewed by former ESPN analyst Robin Roberts along with Condoleeza Rice, the former US Secretary of State who cheers for the Cleveland Browns. As a side note, Rice was the Chancellor of Stanford University when legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh served as the head of their football program.

Image obtained from Facebook

Image obtained from Facebook

An additional element featured a panel of five remarkable women in football. Currently with USA Football, Sam Rapoport, a former quarterback of the Montreal Blitz, has been instrumental in making the Women’s World Football Games a key event in developing the game and its talent. Joining her was former Dallas Diamonds superstar Dr. Jen Welter, whose accomplishments breaking gender barriers as a player and coach are legendary.

Line judge Sarah Thomas, who was the first female official in NFL history also joined the panel. It was an opportunity to reunite with Welter. During the presence, Welter had a coaching internship with the Arizona Cardinals. During a preseason game that involved the Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs, Thomas had officiating duties, marking the first-ever NFL contest to feature women in both a coaching and officiating role.

Two female executives with the NFL’s franchises in the Bay Area, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers were also part of said panel. Qiava Martinez serves as a Vice President of Premier Seating and Services with the Raiders. Perhaps more importantly, her role is a proud extension of Amy Trask’s legacy, the first female chief executive in NFL history, a role that she held with the same Raiders. The 49ers were represented by Ali Towle, a VP of Marketing for the five-time Super Bowl champions and host franchise for Super Bowl 50.

While the event featured over 250 guests, there was still accessibility as all facets were live streamed through AOL, whose site is a remarkable collection (and reference point) that chronicles how sport has transformed the lives of women. Fans are also encouraged to follow the Summit via Twitter and share comments throughout social media with the hashtag #inthehuddle.

Perhaps the most redeeming aspect of the Summit was the fact that the positive messages throughout extended beyond football. It was a forum filled with encouragement that not only showed the positive influence of sport in the lives of women, but its themes can also apply to the professional aspirations that women have.

#ali-towle, #jen-welter, #qiava-martinez, #samantha-rapoport, #sarah-thomas

Buffalo Bills part of empowering moment in NFL history with addition of Kathryn Smith to coaching staff

For the second time in franchise history, the Buffalo Bills are making a remarkable statement about the role of women in football and sport in general. Thirty years after the franchise hired Linda Bogdan, daughter of Pro Football Hall of Famer Ralph Wilson, to serve as the NFL’s first female scout, eventually becoming a vice president, an historic addition is being made to Rex Ryan’s coaching staff.

Kathryn Smith follows in the groundbreaking footsteps of Dr. Jen Welter, who enjoyed a preseason coaching apprenticeship with the linebacking corps of the Arizona Cardinals. Smith becomes the first full-time member of an NFL coaching staff, appointed to the position of special teams quality control, replacing Michael Hamlin. Of note, she shall work alongside the likes of special teams coordinator Danny Crossman and special teams assistant Eric Smith.


The last few years have seen some significant breakthroughs for women in sport. Former WNBA star Becky Hammon became an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, the first woman in NBA history to attain such a position. During the postseason, she would serve as the Spurs head coach in 2015 Summer League play. In December 2015, Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners hired Amanda Hopkins to serve as an area scout, the first female to be hired for a baseball scouting position in this decade.

Of note, she was familiar with Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan. Not only was she his administrative assistant in his final season as the head coach of the New York Jets in 2014, she followed him to his new position with the Buffalo Bills, in a similar coaching capacity. During Ryan’s inaugural season in Buffalo, Smith also served as his administrative assistant.

Having worked with the Jets as head coach from 2009-14, Ryan was obviously very confident in her abilities to contribute in this new role. Prior to making the hiring decision, Ryan did consult with Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who had allowed Welter the opportunity to engage in the coaching internship.

The New York Jets served as the backdrop for the pro football experience that Smith attained. Over twelve years with the Bills’ AFC East rival, she occupied a wide variety of positions. From humble beginnings with a 2003 internship in game day/special events, she would enjoy a second internship in 2005, serving in college scouting.

Two years later, she would rise to the role of player personnel assistant. Other women have been influential in the Jets organization, including Dawn Aponte and Jacqueline Davidson, who was appointed director of football administration for the 2015 season. As a side note, Smith had worked as a student manager for the St. John’s University men’s basketball squad.

Adding to the momentum was the fact that Bills co-owner Kim Pegula issued a statement to The Associated Press, acknowledging her qualifications and dedication. Welter and Richie Incognito, a member of the Bills offensive line went to social media to show their support.

Memorabilia from Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas to be displayed in Canton

Week one during the 2015 NFL preseason opened on a historic note. While the Arizona Cardinals hosted the Kansas City Chiefs at the University of Phoenix Stadium, falling by a score of 34-19, sporting equality took a historic and exciting step forward. With Dr. Jen Welter in her capacity as a coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals’ middle linebackers, signifying the first game in NFL history to feature a female member of a participating team’s coaching staff; there was another element that added to such a landmark game.

Sarah Thomas, the first full-time female official hired by the NFL was making her officiating debut in the contest. With history being made twice in one night, it was only fitting that the event should be commemorated at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. A flip card of the game was signed by both Thomas and Welter for display in the Hall.

In addition, a photograph of the two along with Welter’s game-worn coaches shirt (of white color with the Cardinals logo on the left) was also placed on display. Beaming with pride, Welter was celebratory on social media, while providing an inspiring message for girls and women looking to make their own dreams come true,

“It’s official, for woman the road to Canton starts with a white shirt…. As a woman who saved my first check of $12 women’s football, and paid dearly to play… A simple white shirt makes a profound statement! @profootballhof thank you for the honor. To all the girls and women out there, let passion, potential, & God’s purpose guide you, not simply a paycheck. That’s #HOF advice in life, not just football.”

Not only was Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians gracious in his assessment of Thomas’ debut, calling her “solid”, linebacker Markus Golden appeared on Arizona Sport 98.7 FM stating that Welter was a really good coach, doing a good job. Welter has certainly gained her own share of new fans. At the Cardinals training facility, fans have been eagerly looking to obtain her autograph. Having earned her doctorate in 2014, she is known affectionately by the sobriquet, “Dr. J”.

Of note, Welter and Thomas are not the only women to have made significant inroads in football this year. Broadcaster Beth Mowins was hired by the Oakland Raiders as their first-ever female play-by-play announcer. In years past, Amy Trask was a CEO for the Raiders, adding to their proud legacy of women in football. Adding to such a momentous hire was the New York Jets appointing Jacqueline Davidson to the position of director of football administration.

For Welter, a two-time IFAF Women’s World Champion that played over a decade with the Dallas Diamonds, football was not her first sport. Attending high school in Florida, she graced the tennis court, following with several solid seasons of rugby with the Boston College Eagles.

Having broken barriers as the first woman to play in a non-kicking position in men’s professional football with the Texas Revolution, she would also coach with the Revolution in 2015. A remarkable show of support must be credited to another individual with strong NFL roots. Former Raiders great (and Hall of Famer) Tim Brown holds the General Manager position with the Revolution and was in awe of Welter’s work ethic and ability to never give up.

The Hall of Fame recognition is one that is highly fitting for both Welter and Thomas. The proverbial icing on the cake for both would be their likenesses on a football card. Perhaps in the near future, Canton shall open its doors to female football players, akin to the Hockey Hall of Fame inducting female hockey players. On the field, Welter was part of an exciting generation for the growth of women’s football, one that featured the likes of Sami Grisafe, Liz Sowers and Donna Wilkinson, not just Hall of Fame athletes, but Hall of Fame people.

Although Welter has drawn comparisons to former WNBA star Becky Hammon, the first woman to serve full-time on an NBA coaching staff (with the San Antonio Spurs), the bigger picture signifies a watershed moment for women in sport. From women’s hockey players such as Hilary Knight, Lesley Reddon and Anne Schleper earning the chance to practice with NHL clubs over this past season to women’s baseball being contested for the first time at the Pan American Games, Welter is part of a group of pioneers that are not just building a new and exciting role for women in sport, they are subsequently building self-esteem and confidence for all women.

#jen-welter, #sarah-thomas

Arizona Cardinals represent newest chapter in Dr. Jen Welter’s remarkable career

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.

AP Photo: Matt York

AP Photo: Matt York

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.


Sarah Thomas breaks gender barrier to become the first female NFL referee

As the National Football League prepares for the 2015 season, an exciting announcement has resulted in a great day for sporting equality. After close to a decade of officiating at the collegiate level, Sarah Thomas has been hired by the NFL as an official.

In becoming the first woman to serve as official at the NFL level, it only adds to the growing momentum of women breaking barriers in football. Taking into account that this year, Dr. Jen Welter (a two-time gold medalist for the USA at the IFAF Women’s World Football Championships) became an assistant coach with the Texas Revolution, the accomplishment of Thomas makes 2015 a year to remember.

Congratulations to NFL commissioner Roger Goddell, who has shown great strides in helping make football more female friendly. From the implementation of a line of female-friendly football merchandise, to women serving as on-air personalities for the NFL Network, Goddell even invited Sam Gordon to attend the Super Bowl as his guest. With the league’s support of USA Football’s programs geared towards women in football, it marks the beginning of a golden age for women in football.

Thomas follows in the proud legacy of Violet Palmer, who became the first female referee in the history of the National Basketball Association back in the 1990s. As a side note, the 2014-15 NBA season saw Becky Hammonds become the first female member of a coaching staff, as she joined the San Antonio Spurs.

Perhaps one day, there shall be a female umpire in Major League Baseball, or a female official in the National Hockey League. For now, the appointment of Thomas as an NFL official makes her a gridiron hero in the noble effort for sporting equality.


Diane Long a remarkably strong woman and inspiring football mom and wife

In an era when so many wives and girlfriends of professional athletes are either eye candy or unfortunate victims of drug abuse and/or domestic violence, Diane Long sets the gold standard as a strong, intelligent woman able to balance motherhood with a strong sense of responsibility. Along with Olivia Manning, the two may definitely be the first ladies among NFL wives.

Having devoted more than 30 years of her life as a football wife/mom, Diane Addonizio initially met Howie Long when the two were students at Villanova Univeristy. In June of 1982, she married Long, while embarking on a legal career. One of her first experiences as an NFL wife that exposed her to pop culture came in 1992. A trading card set titled Pro Line Portraits was released. Just like the 1991 edition, the 1992 cards would feature randomly inserted cards of player’s wives. In addition, some of the cards would be autographed. Adorned in a Raiders jacket, a smiling Long would be featured on a trading card.

Diane Long football card from 1992 Pro Line Portraits

Diane Long football card from 1992 Pro Line Portraits

One of her most emotional experiences as a football mom took place during the 2013 NFL season when the St. Louis Rams took on the Chicago Bears. Oldest son Christopher, a former second overall pick by the Rams in the NFL Draft, followed in his father’s footsteps, NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, by playing at the defensive end position.
During their childhood, Diane had a license plate that read 3 Boy Zoo. It was not uncommon to find dirty socks and gum wrappers hidden throughout the home.

Younger by four years, Kyle was selected by the Bears in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Playing at the guard position, Kyle spent his Sunday trying to prevent Christopher and the rest of the Bears defense from stifling the Bears offensive attack. During the game, a scrap broke out between the two teams, as Chris, a former All-American at the University of Virginia pulled away Kyle in order to save him from ejection.

In earlier years, Christopher and Kyle would be fighting between each other. Of note, Diane made a stand early in Christopher’s life, advising him that if he continued to be mean to his brother, he would not be allowed to play Pop Warner football. Today, the younger Kyle is bigger, measuring in at 6-6, while Christopher is 6-3. The youngest son is Howie, Jr., born in 1990, currently an intern with the Oakland Raiders.

Even with her oldest son Christopher, selected over Glenn Dorsey by the St. Louis Rams with the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, she still played a prominent role. Akin to hockey superstar Sidney Crosby’s mom Trina (who sat for one season on the CWHL’s Board of Directors), who provided him with moral support on NHL Draft Day, Diane Long was equally important in her son’s first day as part of pro football.

Christopher’s day started with a missing toothbrush, followed by the absence of a clean white T-shirt to wear under his dress shirt. With mother around, she had the hotel supply a toothbrush while taking one of her husband’s T-shirt’s in order to get the all-too monumental draft day off to a right start for him.

As a side note, she would also provide a key role when Kyle, a two-sport star who was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 2008 MLB Draft, was a student-athlete for the Florida State Seminoles. Arrested on a DUI charge in January 2009, he would leave the school during the same month. Showing tough love, she would let Kyle work it out for himself, proud to see him mature by going into rehab and bouncing back with Pac-10 powerhouse Oregon.

Along with her son Kyle, she would participate in a panel discussion at the Walter Payton Center, part of a free football safety clinic for nearly 200 moms. Hosted by the Chicago Bears, the headline guests included NFL commissioner Roger Goodell; Bears chairman George McCaskey and TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz. Other wives in attendance included Chris Golic and Connie Payton.

The first clinic of its kind hosted by an NFL team, topics included education on concussion awareness, which featured the moms in attendance using techniques from Heads Up Football (launched by USA Football) in order to properly execute drills. Other topics included heat and hydration, along with proper equipment fitting. Long’s presence certainly had a profound effect. With all three of her sons having played the game, she shared with the moms in attendance her experiences about having her children play the game.

Acknowledging the importance of the family communicating and reaching a decision on allowing younger players to play football, her advice to the mothers in attendance was to maintain an open dialogue and stay involved. The fact that she admitted she is still worried when her sons play the game was heartwarming, as it shows the positive impact that mothers and wives can have in football. Certainly, her three boy zoo of Christopher, Kyle and Howie, Jr., can attest to her tremendous role as a football mom.