Where do Women Belong in Football?

A look at what Kathryn Smith’s promotion means for women in football

by Marina Alvarado (Online Editor) – 2/15/16

Right now, women are confined to the sidelines as reporters, coaches, or cheerleaders
Right now, women are confined to the sidelines as reporters, coaches, or cheerleaders

Kathryn Smith has been hired as the first full-time female assistant coach for the NFL. After 50 Super Bowls played and 96 years of being established as a league, a vital question still remains: why has it taken the NFL so long to hire a female coach?

In terms of breaking barriers, this is not the first time a female has broken barriers in the NFL. Linda Bogdan  broke the glass ceiling when she became the first female scout in 1986. Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas broke it again in 2015 as a training camp coach and the first female referee, respectively. Now, Smith leads the way as the first female full time coach in the history of the NFL.

Smith worked as an administrative assistant to other assistant coaches before being promoted to a full time assistant coach. But even at this position, it’s been 96 years, 96 years that women have been excluded from pursuing careers in football.

Third wave feminism has accomplished a lot in the last couple of years. Bringing attention to the wage gap, pushing girls to pursue STEM fields, and shining a light on how girls are treated in this country are a few examples. And yet, no one is talking about the fact that women cannot seriously pursue a future in sports.

From a young age, girls are pushed into more artistic activities like ballet, gymnastics, and figure skating. Even when girls do choose to play on little league teams or pop warner teams, they’re often the only girl on the team and seen as an oddity. As they grow up, they don’t see women in football. They see men playing the game, men coaching the game, and women confined to the sidelines, either as a reporter or as a dancer. To young girls, football isn’t a place for women. Before the hiring of Smith, they didn’t see any role models like themselves that they could look up to. At an age where “what do you want to be when you grow up?” is asked time and time again, how can a girl say “a football player” without feeling like there is no hope for her to achieve her goals?

Realistically, it isn’t possible to allow women to play in the NFL. Women’s bodies are built smaller and in different ways than men’s. That isn’t a misogynistic statement, nor is it anti feminist; it’s a fact. To suggest that women should be able to play with men in the NFL, as a co-ed team, is dangerous and potentially harmful. At the same time, women being excluded from the NFL at today’s levels is outrageous. Women should be able to explore careers in the sport more than they are currently able to.

There is no easy solution to the gender gap in the NFL or in sports in general. A good start is at least granting women the same coaching opportunities that men are granted. While her new position is a huge honor, Smith shouldn’t have to look at the field time and time again knowing that she’s the only woman working with her team, or working within the league.