Katie Sowers is in her third NFL training camp as a San Francisco 49ers coach — this year as an offensive assistant — yet it wasn’t easy for the former Women’s Football Alliance player to get there.
Sowers recounted her entry into the NFL coaching ranks with Kristine Leahy on Tuesday’s Fair Game on Fox Sports 1 and shared that one unnamed NFL executive told her his team wasn’t ready for a female coach.
Part of the reasoning had to do with an employee’s question about a desk.
Sowers: NFL team ‘wasn’t ready’ for female coach
Sowers was Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship recipient during the 2016 training camp with the Atlanta Falcons. She joined the 49ers the following year as a fellow, working with wide receivers during camp, and was hired full-time for the season.
That job offer, she told Leahy, came after another team refused her employment despite really liking her because it wasn’t ready to have a woman on staff.
A team denied @KatieSowers a coaching position because they "weren't ready to have a female" on staff.— Fair Game (@FairGameonFS1) August 13, 2019
The now-49ers asst. coach and the 2nd woman in NFL history to hold a full-time coaching position speaks up on an all new FAIR GAME w/ @KristineLeahy today at 5:30pm ET on @FS1 pic.twitter.com/AXQVZdcfFV
Sowers told NPR the story in March and said the interview went “extremely well.”
“He said that they were actually shocked by how much they really liked me and said they would love to maybe open up opportunities for me down the road, but at that moment that they weren't ready to have a female on staff.”
This stance came in part because of one employee’s absolutely bizarre concern about desks. Sowers told Leahy:
"[The unnamed team executive] went on to say that one of the coaches came up to him and said, 'Where are we going to put her desk?' He said, 'Where we put everyone else's desk.' But that was another indicator to him that this organization is far from being ready."
You put her desk with all the other desks in the department she’s working. Crazy!
Politically correct? Sowers wants the honesty
There’s no reason organizations shouldn’t be ready to hire a qualified individual to the staff who happens to be a woman. But for all the progress that’s made, there are still places that can’t handle it.
Sowers, 33, took the comments well enough and has good perspective on it.
"Although I hated hearing that, I loved the honesty. Because it meant that the words that he was saying was coming from the foundation of ignorance of the organization. But he understood the ignorance. Oftentimes we get caught up in what's politically correct and hearing all these words that make us feel better ... when often it could be lies. I'd rather hear the truth and hear the ignorance because that’s where we create change. It’s not the words that we need to change, it’s the mindset.”
It’s wrong, but if a leader is smart enough to recognize the ignorance inside his or her organization, it’s the decent thing to avoid putting a woman in that bad situation. Her time with this particular team would likely have been difficult for her and there’s no need for that. The turmoil to come out of it could have ruined her passion for the sport for life. It also could have set women back if other teams pointed to it and used it as their reasoning to not hire women.
Again, none of that should be a part of society in this day and age. And the team executive pushed her in the direction of the 49ers, where she is thriving. What’s his loss is another team’s gain.
Sowers told NPR in March this executive told her he felt the situation with head coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers was a “better situation for me not to pass up that opportunity.”
“What teams will start to find is it's really not different to have a woman on staff. It's just like everybody else. But it's new.”
Sowers was the second female coach hired as a full-time coach in NFL history, joining Kathryn Smith. Smith was hired by the Buffalo Bills in 2016.
Sowers represented the U.S. and helped the team win the women’s football world title and gold medal in 2013.
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