The offensive assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers will be the first woman to coach in a Super Bowl, and is also the NFL’s only openly LGBTQ coach.
Whether or not the San Francisco 49ers are able to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, February 2, they’ll still be making history. San Francisco offensive assistant coach Katie Sowers will be both the first woman and the first openly LGBTQ person to coach in the NFL’s biggest game, and that’s cause for celebration even if her team doesn’t end up winning the day.
While most people think of American football as a men’s sport, there are female full-contact football leagues, and the biggest of those is the Women’s Football Alliance, which had its first season in 2009. Sowers played quarterback for the WFA’s Kansas City Titans and West Michigan Mayhem, and in 2013, she was a member of the USA Women’s Football team that won the IFAF Women’s World Championship — a sort of World Cup for American football rather than soccer.
Sowers retired from pro play in 2016 after a hip injury, and was soon hired as a wide receiver’s intern by the Atlanta Falcons. She was hired by the 49ers in 2017 as a seasonal offensive assistant, then promoted to offensive assistant coach for the 2019 season.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppalo spoke highly of Sowers, in particular her work with the team’s wide receivers. “She’s been tremendous,” he told San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX. “What she does with the receivers, all the skill positions guys, how she interacts with them — it’s special. She’s feisty, man. Katie is awesome out there. She’ll get after guys … It’s fun to be around.”
Sowers obtained her position with the 49ers in part by impressing the team’s head coach, Kyle Shanahan, when he encountered her during her time with the Falcons. Shanahan spoke highly of her in a recent interview with the San Diego Mercury News. “Katie did a real good job for us in Atlanta, she’s done a really good job here,” Shanahan said. “She’s a hard worker, you don’t even notice her because she just goes to work and does what’s asked.”
You might have noticed Sowers yourself, if you’ve caught a recent Microsoft Surface Pro 7 commercial that features her as the star. It begins with Sowers reading from a childhood notebook about her dreams to someday be part of “a real football team.”
This is the exact sort of dream that one of the most high-profile American sports has long denied to both women and LGBTQ people — indeed, despite the high-profile drafting of openly gay defensive end Michael Sam in 2014, Sam didn’t make it to the final roster of any NFL team, and ended up spending his pro football career in the Canadian Football League. Despite several openly gay players making names for themselves at the college level since, none has successfully gone pro. At this point, therefore, Katie Sowers is pretty much the only LGBTQ representation the NFL has to offer. When viewed in that light, her success is even more remarkable.
Therefore, whether her team wins in the Super Bowl this year or not, we have to count the fact that she’s there at all as a little tiny victory for all of us.
Top Photo via Katie Sowers/Facebook