On Sunday, Katie Sowers, assistant offensive coach for the San Francisco 49ers, will become the first woman ever to coach in the Super Bowl when she helps lead her team against the Kansas City Chiefs. To mark this important milestone, Microsoft is putting her front and center in its Super Bowl ads.
It's a time when our society is increasingly aware than ever that women in the workplace constantly face subtle and not-so-subtle obstacles pretty much all the time, but also a time when women are breaking down barriers that were expected to stand forever. At the last Democratic presidential debate, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren emphatically agreed that a woman could be elected president, arguing only over whether he had always said so. And then there's Sowers at the Super Bowl.
Because most of the attention is focused on head coaches, and because Sowers is one of a handful of female assistant coaches in the NFL, it might have been easy for fans to miss noticing this event. So Microsoft is making sure to highlight it by pairing Sowers with a Surface tablet and focusing its Super Bowl advertising on her.
There's a lot Sowers can teach the rest of us about pursuing your dreams, even when they seem impossible. Her father was a coach and she loved football from a young age. Around age eight, she wrote in her notebook: "When I grow up I want to be on a real football team. I want to be a receiver." This seemed nonsensical at the time -- the first women's American football league wouldn't come along until 1999, and it started with only two teams. As the women's sport gained ground, though, Sowers was ready. She played for the West Michigan Mayhem in Kalamazoo, Michican, and for the Kansas City Titans in the Women's Football Alliance, and she was on the winning American team at the IFAF women's football championship in 2013. In 2016, she retired as a player due to a hip injury.
She then worked as an intern with Atlanta Falcons until she moved to the 49ers. Besides being the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl, she will also be the first openly gay person to do so.
Sowers is one of a very small but growing number of female assistant coaches in the NFL. The most recent additions are assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hired in spring of 2019.
The way Locust and Javadifar were hired says a lot about how progress is made and how far we still have to go. Last year, the Buccaneers' head coach Bruce Arians was talking to his wife Christine about hiring another female intern. He had made history in 2015 by hiring Jen Welter as an intern when he coached for the Arizona Cardinals, the first woman to do coaching of any kind in the NFL.
Since then, a few other women had landed NFL coaching jobs, but mostly as interns. So Christine Arians challenged her husband to rethink his plan. "I said, 'Oh, babe. We don't need more internships,'" she told ESPN. "Like, 'Oh, yeah, come on, little lady. Hang with us for a year, and then we're going to let you go.'" Instead, she said, "Find somebody that's qualified to coach and hire them." And so he did.
As for Sowers, she's still dreaming big. "I would love to be a head coach. That's my goal," she told Microsoft. "I've been told people aren't ready for it." But both Sowers and the Microsoft commercial have been met with mostly positive feedback. Maybe people are readier than she knows.