During Super Bowlweek, focus on diversity
As the Denver Broncos prepare to take on the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 next Sunday, the NFL has been reflecting on its past and future. That futurewill require a stronger relationship withwomen, who are not only 45 percent of the NFL’s fan base, but also its fastest-growing demographic.
That’s why off the field, one of the NFL’s biggest wins this season was the Buffalo Bills’ hire of Kathryn Smith as the league’s first full-time female coach.
It’s amove that solidly contrasts the NFL’s ongoing troubles with domestic violence and an unresolved dispute over paying its highly trained cheerleaders aminimum wage (still less than a hot dog vendor earns).
As the Bills’ new quality control-special teams coach, Smith joins a handful of female coaches and officials who are breaking gender barriers in major professional sports. Last year, the Arizona Cardinals hired JenWelter as a temporary inside linebackers coach during training camp, and the NFL hired Sarah Thomas as its first female referee.
In 2014, the San Antonio Spurs hired WNBA star Becky Hammon as the first full-time female coach in the NBA.
One of the greatest arguments for providing diverse role models in every field is that you can’t be what you can’t see, according to Children’s Defense Fund president MarianWright Edelman.
“When we think about what it is to be ‘connected,’ we think about memory. We think about history. We think about storytelling,” she wrote in a recent blog post. Inclusion and diversity create that sense of connection, she said, by not only allowing people to see themselves represented in the world around them, but also enabling others to see them in different ways.
That was certainly the case for Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who cited the NBA’s hiring of Hammon as inspiration for hiring Smith.
“You can see the success some of these young ladies are having in the coaching profession,” he said, “and realize how exciting this is for women like Kathryn Smith as well as the Bills organization.”
Smith served as an administrative assistant to Ryan since 2014, and a full-time player personnel assistant for seven years.
When women have the opportunity to earn well-deserved leadership positions that command the respect of players, it can help change male athletes’ perceptions of women— as well as inspire a new generation of female coaches.
“I may be the first, but I don’t think I’ll be the only one for very long.” Smith stated on the team’s website.
That would be good news for the NFL, which is slowly realizing that diversity and inclusion create two-way connections that also benefit businesses.
The league is hosting aWomen’s Summit during Super Bowl week, on Thursday and Friday, that will highlight the role sports can play in developing the next generation of women leaders.
Hopefully the NFL’s homage to female athletes will include more hiring of female coaches, a consistently tough response to domestic violence, and fair pay for its hardworking cheerleaders.
As conference champions, the Denver Broncos should celebrate Super Bowl week by disclosing cheerleader pay and committing to a minimum wage for its own female athletes during theWomen’s Summit.
During a historic Super Bowl, itwould give Denver’s female sports fans another great
reason to cheer. LisaWirthman is a monthly columnist for The Denver Post. Follow her on Twitter: @LisaWirthman