“We didn’t hire Becky to make history. She earned it. She is qualified. She’s wonderful at what she does. I wanted her on my staff because of the work that she does. And she happens to be a woman, which basically should be irrelevant, but it’s not in our world.”
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich shone the light on women making their mark in men’s US sport last month as he sang the praises of Becky Hammon, who became the first woman in history to take charge of an NBA team.
The NFL will take another stride in its own pursuit of increased diversity this weekend as six of the now-seven female coaches in the league, following Katie Sowers’ departure from the San Francisco 49ers, take their place on the sidelines in the playoffs.
Full-year coaching intern Jennifer King will be alongside head coach Ron Rivera when Washington take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose staff will include assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar during Saturday’s Wild Card matchup.
It is set to represent the first time ever in NFL history that female coaches from opposing teams have faced off in the postseason.
Elsewhere, chief of staff Callie Brownson will travel with the Cleveland Browns as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Los Angeles Rams’ strength and conditioning coach Chelsea Romero will be involved against the Seattle Seahawks and Mike Vrabel’s setup will include seasonal assistant strength and conditioning coach Cristi Bartlett when the Tennessee Titans meet the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
History was made earlier this season as King, Brownson and Sarah Thomas’ involvement in the Browns’ match-up with Washington marked the first time ever that there had been two female coaches on the sideline and a female official on the field. Thomas became the NFL’s first female official in 2015, during which year the Arizona Cardinals also became the first NFL team to appoint a female coach when they added Jen Welter to their staff.
Sowers, who parted ways with the 49ers after four years this week, became the NFL’s first openly gay female coach and was the first female to coach in the Super Bowl when San Francisco were beaten by the Kansas City Chiefs in February 2020.
“I really think it’s a direct testament to forward-thinking coaches opening up their minds to the entire pool of applicants for jobs, and I think these forward-thinking coaches have created cultures with sustained winning and ultimately they’ve made the playoffs now,” King told NFL Total Access.
“So I think it’s no coincidence that these coaches have created such a great culture and have won games and divisions and they’re in the playoffs.”
The NBA displayed its own progress in December as Hammon took the reins with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter of the Spurs’ 121-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers when head coach Popovich was ejected following two technical fouls.
She had been the first woman ever to be paid for her role as an assistant coach in a full-time capacity after being hired by the Spurs in August 2014.
“Obviously it’s a big deal, a substantial moment,” Hammon said after the game. “I’ve been a part of this organisation. I got traded here in 2007, so I’ve been in San Antonio and part of the Spurs organisation with the Stars and everything for 13 years. So I have a lot of time invested, and they have a lot of time invested in me in building me and getting me better.”
While Popovich appreciated the enormity of the occasion, he also endeavoured to treat it as something not so out of the ordinary.
“To a lot of other people it meant a lot. I can understand that,” he said. “[But] there are women in every other endeavour in the world, whether it’s government, science, technology, aviation, it doesn’t matter what it is. Women do the same jobs as well and better than men. That’s a fact. There’s no reason why somebody like Becky and other women can’t be coaches in the NBA.”
“On a larger scale, that’s why it wasn’t a big deal to me – because I know her. And I know her skills, and I know her value and I know her future is very, very bright.”
Women have also contributed to playoff pushes behind-the-scenes in the NFL, with Megan McLaughlin serving as director of football information for the Ravens and Robyn Wilkey as executive assistant to Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy.
For King, it’s all business as Washington’s offensive line look to carve the running lanes for Antonio Gibson and protect either Alex Smith or Taylor Heinicke, whoever it may be that starts at quarterback, against the Bucs defensive line whose preparations Locust will be helping oversee.
“She has a really tough group,” added King. “I’ve been looking at them on film, and they’re very good. We’ll definitely have our work cut out for us on Saturday.
“It will be exciting to compete against her for the first time directly. We’ve been speaking throughout the week on some things and it will exciting to see her. Her and MJ. They’re good friends.”