By Michael LeCompte
In July the Arizona Cardinals made headlines with the hiring of Jen Welter as the first female coach in NFL history and on Sunday her groundbreaking summer continued at University of Phoenix Stadium where the NFL’s first female referee, Sarah Thomas, was officiating. We all read the headlines and heard the interviews, but who, exactly is Jen Welter?
Jen Welter played collegiate rugby at Boston College, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. After earning her PhD in Psychology she played and coached professional football, worked as a personal trainer and nutritionist, and has been a motivational speaker.
Welter played linebacker for the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Football Alliance, winning multiple championships, before moving into the men’s game.
On January 24, 2014 the 5-foot-2 130 pound Welter made her debut at running back for the Texas Revolution of the IFL, becoming the first woman to play football in a men’s league at a position other than kicker. (She rushed 3 times for -1 yards in her only action at running back).
Moving from the field to the sideline Welter then served as the Revolution’s linebacker’s coach.
On July 27 Arizona hired her as a training camp/preseason intern inside linebackers coach.
“I’m here as a football coach,” Welter, 37, said upon her hire.
Football insiders report that Welter has a great “football mind” and that it was only a matter of time until she was given a chance to coach and Arizona head coach Bruce Arians has stated that her hiring is no publicity stunt.
However, there are a few potential problems with Welter’s hiring.
First, if Welter was brought to Arizona as a coach and not a stunt, then why the preseason intern tag? Did management want to grab some press, but retain an easy way to separate themselves from their new hire and any possible distractions during the regular season?
It seems as though if she were really there as a coach that she should be given that opportunity during the season when the games actually matter.
Secondly, her coaching position might get the spotlight, but Welter’s talents might actually be better utilized in an team official capacity. Her Doctorate in Psychology, specializing in Sports Psychology, probably allows her a unique perspective and understanding of the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of professional athletes.
As perhaps a team Psychologist, rather than a coach, Welter may be able to motivate players the way no amount of coaching ever could. (More and more teams are employing Psychologists as the mental health of players continues to be an issue).
By becoming the first female coach in the NFL Jen Welter is already a success, but hopefully she does well and earns the right to a full-time coaching job, in Arizona or anywhere else, her hire is good for the game and could open the door for more non-traditional hires, of both men and women.