Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Girls & Women

Historic NFL hiring is a win for girls and women

Twin Design / Shutterstock

For the first time ever, someone other than a man has joined the full-time coaching staff of a National Football League team.

Welcome to the 21st century, American football! 

On Wednesday, the Buffalo Bills named Kathryn Smith their special teams quality control coach. It’s a relatively small role in that she won’t actually be calling plays on game day, but it nonetheless marks an important milestone for the United States’ most popular sports league. 

Prior to earning her historic promotion, Smith spent 13 years in various administrative roles around the league, during which time she worked for—and managed to earned the trust of—current Bills head coach Rex Ryan. 

As groundbreaking as Smith’s hiring may be, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The league still has major work to do on issues affecting women, starting with domestic violence. Same goes for the team that hired Smith—the Bills may be co-owned by a woman, Kim Pegula, but the team recently endured a PR backlash for its treatment of female cheerleaders

Does Smith’s achievement mean the beleaguered Bills will finally be remembered for something other than losing four straight Super Bowls? Don’t count on it.

Does it mean the league's well-documented diversity-related shortcomings are all solved? Not even close.

Does it mean the NFL has single-handedly achieved Global Goal 5 and ensured complete gender equality worldwide? Dream on. 

The truth is, this is less of a 70-yard touchdown strike into the end zone of equality, and more of a hard-fought 2-yard gain toward the first-down marker of progress.

But in the movement to guarantee women everywhere the same opportunities as their male counterparts, every yard counts. (Please pardon the gratuitous sports analogies.) 

Smith’s hiring means that, for once in its 95-year history, the NFL’s roster of full-time coaches is starting to reflect its fanbase. Around 45 percent of NFL fans are women, and women are considered a major driving force behind the recent growth of the league. 

All this despite the fact that American football is one of the most male-dominated and testosterone-fueled sporting events on the planet, and women and girls are given little to no opportunity to play the sport themselves. 

Smith’s hiring also marks the logical next step in a recent trend of diversity-related firsts for the NFL. Last year, the Arizona Cardinals made Jen Welter the league’s first female coaching intern. The league also welcomed its first female referee in April.      

Above all, Smith’s accomplishment marks a symbolic step forward for women and girls everywhere. The NFL is in many ways the biggest boy’s club around. If women can get their collective foot in that door, there's no telling what barriers they might topple next.