Dur­ing Su­per Bowl­week, fo­cus on di­ver­sity

The Denver Post - - OP-ED - By LisaWirth­man

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

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