NFL's first openly gay, female coach headed to Super Bowl

Once rejected from a volunteer coaching position because of her "lifestyle," Katie Sowers will make NFL history as the first openly gay and female assistant coach headed to the Super Bowl.

Sowers is an offensive assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers, whose win against the Green Bay Packers Sunday secured the team's spot in the championship game on Feb. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The 49ers will face-off against the Kansas City Chiefs.

She is the second woman to coach in the NFL and began her athletic career playing in the Women’s Football Alliance for the West Michigan Mayhem and the Kansas City Titans. After retiring in 2016 because of a hip injury, Sowers joined the NFL as an intern for the Atlanta Falcons, and took the assistant coach position with the 49ers the next year.

Sowers became the first out gay coach in the NFL when she came out before the 2017 season.

“No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are,” Sowers said in an interview with Outsports after coming out. “There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation.”

“By standing out and proud as the first-ever openly gay NFL coach in a Super Bowl, Katie Sowers not only shows LGBTQ athletes and fans what’s possible for them, but also shows the sport world as a whole that LGBTQ people are a valuable part of this community,” Joanna Hoffman, director of communications at the national LGBTQ athletic advocacy group Athlete Ally, wrote in an emailed statement.

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SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 19: San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers stands on the field before their NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020 (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 19: Assistant coach Katie Sowers of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after winning the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers beat the Packers 37-20. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 11: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers talks with Offensive Assistant Coach Katie Sowers on the sideline prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi's Stadium on January 11, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers defeated the Vikings 27-10. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 15: San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant coach Katie Sowers looks on during the warm up before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 29: Offensive Assistant Katie Sowers looks on during the warm up before the preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi's Stadium on August 29, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 09: San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers (R) and U.S. Olympic Medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad participate in a panel discussion during the SheBelieves Summit at Nike New York Headquarters on March 09, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 25: Seasonal Offensive Assistant Coach Katie Sowers and Richie James Jr. #13 of the San Francisco 49ers talk on the field prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on November 25, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. The Buccaneers defeated the 49ers 27-9. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
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“The more barriers we can break down in football and in all sports, the more LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans will be able to be who they are and be a part of the sport they love.”

Despite achieving a historic position of leadership in the highest level of national football, Sowers said she experienced LGBTQ discrimination in sports while in college, when was rejected from a volunteer coaching job because of her “lifestyle.”

“I was so passionate about coaching and to feel like my opportunities were limited because of who I loved was hard to deal with,” Sowers told Outsports. “However, without that experience I would not be where I am today.”

The incident encouraged the coach to use her platform to promote inclusivity. Sowers was in part responsible for the genesis of a Pride fan club for the 49ers last May, the first NFL team-sponsored group that officially recognized its LGBTQ fans. She also frequently posts pictures of her with her girlfriend on Instagram and talks about her experiences being a women coach.

Athletes and fans are excited for Sowers' historic role at Super Bowl LIV and have remarked that her position is especially poignant given there have only been 13 out gay and bi players in the NFL's 100-year history, according to OutSports.

"Congratulations to @KatieSowers of the @49ers, who will become the first woman to coach in the #SuperBowl," tweeted Billie Jean King, gender equality advocate in sports and a former World No. 1 professional tennis player. "You have to see it to be it!"

"Phenomenal @KatieSowers," wrote World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Hope Solo, alongside a clapping hands emojis.

Last week, another major advancement in for women in professional sports occurred when Alyssa Nakken joined the San Francisco Giants as an assistant coach, becoming the first woman to be a part of a Major League Baseball coaching staff.

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