Jen Welter says Bucs’ coach is a ‘hero for all women,’ recalls ‘tears of joy’ for female Super Bowl ref pick

The Big Game

TAMPA, Fla. (WIAT) — Move over, guys! At this year’s Super Bowl, it’s the women who are upping the ante. This will be the first Super Bowl to feature a female official and two women assistant coaches on Tampa Bay’s staff.

Jen Welter, the first female to coach in the NFL, says this year’s Super Bowl will help break down barriers for women in football—and she’s giving kudos to Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians.

“I think Bruce Arians is the champion for diversity in this league,” Welter said of her former boss. “He’s really leading the way. All the women who are now getting opportunities should look to Bruce Arians and the bravery and the stance that he took in bringing the first woman—and that he stays consistent in doing it. To me, he’s a hero for all women and what allyship can look like, both in football and in our society.”

Welter started her athletic career while at Boston College on the Eagles rugby team. That led to a 14-year professional football career in multiple female leagues. She played from 2001 until 2014, when she broke into the coaching business with the Texas Revolution, one of her former teams. In 2015, when Arians was head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, he brought on Welter as their linebackers and special teams coaching intern. This historic hire gave Welter her first—and her gender’s first—coaching stint in the NFL.

“When you are the first, the opportunity and the responsibility is to ensure that you’re not the last,” Welter said.

The hires did not stop with Welters. Four years later, Arians left Arizona for Tampa, which became the first team to employ two full-time female coaches: Lori Locust as assistant defensive line coach and Maral Javadifar as assistant strength and conditioning coach. Both will be on the sidelines in Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

This will not be the first time a female coach has appeared in a Super Bowl. Last year, the 49ers’ Katie Sowers became the first woman in NFL history to coach in a Super Bowl. And now, Sarah Thomas will achieve another historic first for women in football as the Super Bowl’s first female official in its 54-year history.

Six years ago, Thomas and Welter both made NFL history together at the field of the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Thomas earned her officiating stripes as the first woman to work an NFL preseason game as a full-time on-field official. In that same Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs game, Welter made her coaching debut as the first woman to coach an NFL preseason game.

“We shook hands that day, and it solidified a friendship,” Welter recalled.

Welter said before the Super Bowl announcement was made public, Thomas texted her, “I’m going to be reffing the Super Bowl, and I’ll think of you while doing it.”

“I had tears of joy and had to hold the news…that blonde ponytail of hers is going to make a big statement to both women and men watching the game that day,” Welter said.

Speaking on the pressure of “not dropping the ball,” Welter said she understands the pressure on Thomas as a representative of all women.

“[She is] a representative by virtue of just the scarcity…if [people have] never seen another woman [football official] before, then [she is] what’s defining women in that space,” Welter said. “There’s not a better woman to carry that responsibility than Sarah.”

Welter believes Saturday’s game is just another step forward in what has been a long journey of women’s achievements in football.

“I think you will absolutely see a woman as a head coach,” Welter predicted. “We’re going to continue to see women making strides in all levels of football.”

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