San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers is only the second-ever full time female NFL coach. Now, she’s the first openly gay coach in the history of major male American professional sports.
Sowers came out as a lesbian to the website Outsports, saying “The more we can create an environment that welcomes all types of people, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, the more we can help ease the pain and burden that many carry every day.
Who is Katie Sowers?
Sowers is a former football player who led the United States to the gold medal in the 2013 Women’s World Championship, and was a scouting intern with the Atlanta Falcons last season. She said she has lost out on jobs in the past because of her sexual orientation.
“As I was finishing college, I actually got turned down from a volunteer coaching job because of my sexual orientation,” Sowers told Outsports. “I was told ‘because of your lifestyle, we ask that you do not come around the team.”
What does this mean for the league?
Sowers said there are “so many” people in the NFL who identify as LGBT who don’t feel comfortable coming out publicly.
The NFL has a limited history with openly gay participants. In 2014, linebacker Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted when the St. Louis Rams picked him in the seventh round. He was released after the preseason.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Sam to their practice squad later that year, releasing him after less than two months. His last professional football stint was with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Sam notably left the team before the first preseason game for personal reasons before returning weeks later. In August 2015 he retired from football completely, citing mental health concerns.
Sam’s openly gay lifestyle brought immense national attention to the Rams’ training camp, which some viewed as a distraction. It’s unclear how players in locker rooms would react to having openly gay teammates.
It’s possible that Sowers coming out could lead more NFL players to make their sexuality public. Or, it could normalize homosexuality in the league to a point where a player’s or coach’s sexuality is not seen as noteworthy.
Outsports notes that there have been 11 known gay players in NFL history. None of those players came out while active in the league.