The 49ers beat the Packers last night, which amounts to very little from a progressive standpoint save for this: It means that 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers will become the first woman and the first openly-LGBTQ coach to head to the Super Bowl.
Sowers is only the second woman in history to hold a full-time coaching position with the NFL, but told People that it’s not something that her colleagues dwell on:
“When you ask any of the coaches who work with me, often they’ll get asked about working with a female,” Sowers said at the time. “To them, it’s not even something that they think about — and it’s not something that I truly think about. They see me for who I am as a coach, and not a female coach.”
Sowers has been passionate about football since she was a child, and formerly played in the Woman’s Football Alliance and the U.S. National Football Team. Her love of the game is apparent, but predictably, it hasn’t been an easy road to get where she is. She was once turned down for an unpaid, volunteer coaching position at her former college because of her lifestyle, recalling, “I remember holding back tears and calling my mom right away.”
Because of the college’s religious affiliation, “there was nothing that I could do about it,” Sowers added. “That was, in a way, their right to turn me down, to keep me away from the team.”
However, she didn’t let that experience set back her goals.
“Instead of it being an obstacle, it was actually a building block for my future and my next step because I had to look elsewhere,” she explained.
The NFL and its leadership are openly disrespectful of women, despite the occasional pandering efforts to the contrary. Sowers, however, represents something more important to girls aspiring to careers in football than any ill-conceived “women’s summit” ever will:
“When I’m on the field and look around, it all kind of sinks in on how far I’ve come and where I am,” she told PEOPLE. “I see young girls out there almost every game, and someone’s mom or dad is yelling to me, saying, ‘my daughter wants to play football,’ or, ‘my daughter is going to be a coach.’ And those are the moments where it’s worth it.”