The San Francisco 49ers last graced the Super Bowl in 2013. The Kansas City Chiefs haven’t made Super Bowl history since 1970. However, on February 2nd, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, an entirely different kind of history will be made.
Katie Sowers, an offensive assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers, will go down as not only the first female coach, but also the first openly gay coach to participate in a Super Bowl.
Hired in 2017 by the San Francisco 49ers, she became only the second woman to have a full time coaching career in the NFL, the first being football official, Sarah Thomas.
Sowers got her start playing in the Women’s Football Alliance for the West Michigan Mayhem and Kansas City Titans. After an unfortunate hip injury in 2016, she was forced to retire. Not being out of the game quite yet, pun entirely intended, Sowers decided if she couldn’t do she’d teach. She became a training camp assistant intern for the Atlanta Falcons and got an assistant coaching position with the 49ers just a year later. Not bad for someone who was forced to think quick as a result of an injury.
However, before the 2017 season began, Katie took the important step of coming out as the first openly gay coach in the NFL. After coming out, she did an interview with Outsports Magazine, in which she states:
“No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are…there are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation.”
Sowers didn’t get to where she is without having first faced discrimination.
Sowers attended Goshen College in Indiana, a religiously affiliated institution. She told People Magazine, “I was turned down for a volunteer, unpaid coaching position at my former college because of my lifestyle,” she says. “I remember holding back tears and calling my mom right away.”
She goes on to say that it, “Instead of it being an obstacle, it was actually a building block for my future and my next step because I had to look elsewhere,” she states. Sowers would eventually graduate from Goshen and then earn her master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Central Missouri in 2012.
2019 was a record year for female athletes, with stars like Megan Rapinoe leading the charge. From equal pay to tackling Trump, Rapinoe didn’t shy away from patriotism or controversy. With Sowers, we’re taking that momentum from 2019 and continuing to create safe spaces for LGBTQ individuals in 2020.
I look forward to a day when an athlete like Rapinoe isn’t celebrated as a woman or as a lesbian, but simply as an athelete. I look forward to the day coaches like Sowers are celebrated not for their gender and their sexuality, but seen first and foremost for their playbook.
Until that day, I’ll continue to highlight the members of the LGBTQ community who decided ripples weren’t enough and made waves.
The 49ers play the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV at 6:30 PM on Sunday, February 2 in Miami, Florida.
Featured image via Katie Sowers