Sports

Meet The Women Making History In The NFL

by Tosten Burks

August 22, 2016

While the National Football League celebrated its 95th birthday on Saturday, the Bills-Giants preseason matchup in Buffalo made history. For the first time in the league’s existence, the game employed both a female coach and a female referee.

Kathryn Smith, the Bills’ special teams quality control coach, was promoted by the team in January after working as head coach Rex Ryan’s administrative assistant. Sarah Thomas, working as the line judge during the Bills’ 21-0 win on Saturday, is entering her second season as an official. Both are the first woman to hold their respective jobs.

Though still a rare sight in America’s Big Three professional sports (NFL, NBA, MLB), Thomas and Smith’s matchup on Saturday reflects a growing trend. Last year, the Arizona Cardinals hired longtime women’s league player Jen Welter as an inside linebackers coach during training camp, and two summers ago, Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon became the NBA’s first full-time female assistant. On the officiating side, the NBA hired its third female referee, Lauren Holtkamp, in 2014.

Perhaps just as importantly, high-ranking women are rising in at least six NFL front offices, and five of the league’s franchises are owned or co-owned by women, including the Bills. Kim Pegula bought the team in 2014 with her husband Terry (beating out, among other bidders, noted misogynist Donald Trump). “While we understand the significance of [Smith’s] hire,” Kim Pegula said in January, “Kathryn earned this position.”

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