NFL's first full-time Black female coach: “It was a very long road”

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Jennifer King made history as the first Black woman to become a full-time coach in the NFL. But her success with the Washington Football Team is no accident.

“It was a very long road, to get here. It took a while. It’s not something—I didn’t just pop up and it’s been a long time coming,” King told CBS News’ Dana Jacobson.

Her long road is just one of several obstacles she’s had to overcome as a woman in the NFL. In the latest report card for gender hiring practices from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the NFL was issued a “C” grade. The league is said to be lagging in gender equity, especially at the team level.

Ron Rivera, Washington’s head coach, hired King because her resume was just as good as any young male coach. Rivera has said that she learned from the bottom up and that she wasn’t on the team to be a token, something she said means a lot to her.

King, now an assistant running backs coach, remembers falling in love with football during her childhood in North Carolina.

“When you were a kid and you were playing football, you didn’t see women on the sidelines coaching,” Jacobson said.

“No. No, definitely not. So that part never really entered my mind…cause I didn’t see it. You know we always talk about representation,” King said. “And no, didn’t really have that at all. I watched a lot of football—but I never saw anyone that looked like me participating.”

Despite the lack of gender diversity, King chased her dream anyway—coaching women’s college basketball and working as a police officer by day to make ends meet.

She even knows what it’s like to be a player. King played professional football in a women’s league for more than a decade. Despite the hurdles, King said she has never had anyone tell her that she can’t achieve her goals because she is a woman.

“I have not,” she laughed. “Well, no one that matters, I guess we could say.”

To the players, King said she is just another coach.

“I don’t think people quite understand like the psyche of the pro athletes. They don’t care. They just want to be better and extend their careers. And if you can help them do that, that’s all that matters,” she said.

Amy Trask, another trailblazer in the league, is the first female CEO in NFL history. In the 1980s, when she attended her first league owner’s meeting as a lawyer for the Oakland Raiders, she experienced what she called “a funny moment.”

“Someone walked up to me, the owner of a team, and asked me to get him coffee. And it was that moment when I looked around and I realized, ‘Oh, I’m the only woman in this room that’s not on the catering staff.’ And then shortly thereafter, the meeting started and I sat down at the table and he looked over…and you could just see the blood draining from his face,” Trask said. “And every league owners meeting after that, he always walked up to me and asked me if I would like some coffee and might he get some for me.”

In her nearly 30 years with the Raiders, fans lovingly called Trask the “Princess of Darkness.” She has since moved on to new ventures and is now a CBS Sports NFL analyst.

“I’m asked all the time, ‘Was I tested because I was a woman?’ And the answer is I don’t know because people are tested all the time. But fair enough, let’s assume I was tested because of my gender. What’s the best thing to do when you’re tested? Pass the damn test,” she said.

That’s where King says she’s putting her energy—focusing on doing a good job.

Progress has made its way to the NFL. In the past five seasons, the number of female coaches has been rising steadily–with eight women breaking through in 2020 and taking their place on the sidelines.

On Sunday, during Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay, Sarah Thomas will become the first woman to officiate at a Super Bowl.

It will also be the first Super Bowl to have two female coaches. Those coaches are both on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“The Super Bowl is gonna see two female coaches on the sidelines with Tampa Bay. And you’ve said that women’s presence is not a coincidence. What did you mean by that?” Jacobson asked.

“I just believe that you know, the cultures that these coaches are building who are willing to open up their staffs for everyone—those cultures become successful. And success brings on wins,” King said.

King said that she’s already gotten messages of encouragement from parents telling her their daughters are interested in football and becoming football coaches. King said “by seeing it they are realizing they can do things that they never thought they could.”

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