It’s time to Break It Down!
Last week I discussed the San Antonio Spurs and their historic association with Becky Hammon. At that moment, it seemed to represent quite a leap for the world of sports. Staying in the realm of athletics, in today’s post I am invading the rarified (for me) air of the NFL.
My close friends and associates know I am a huge basketball fan, and as such, I’ve written about basketball, both college, and professional, on numerous occasions. Alternately, I’ve written sparingly about football.
I wrote about Michael Vick, but it had much more to do with his legal issues than with football. I also wrote about the exigencies of playing Super Bowl XLVIII outdoors in cold weather. That game was played on February 2, 2014, at MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold-weather city.
For the record, the Seahawks defeated the Broncos 43–8, the largest margin of victory for an underdog and the third largest point differential overall (35) in Super Bowl history. It was the first time the winning team scored over 40 points, while holding their opponent to under 10. This became the first Super Bowl victory for the Seahawks and the fifth Super Bowl loss for the Broncos, the most of any team.
Today, for fans of the game, the big story circulating is likely centered around N.F.L. (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell upholding the four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one of football’s biggest stars, after finding that he destroyed potential evidence as the league investigated his role in the deflation of game balls to gain competitive advantage in the A.F.C. championship matchup last January. The saga is referred to as Deflate-gate.
The League, in a 20-page statement, said yesterday that it based its decision on Brady asking an assistant to destroy a cellphone that he had used before, during, and after the week of the game. According to the League, the destruction of the phone eliminated what investigators believed to be 10,000 texts. This revelation came to light during Brady’s testimony at an appeals hearing in June, several months after investigators had requested text messages and emails.
NFL rules did not require Brady to surrender the materials. However, his failure to do so, compounded by the destruction of the phone, raised the question of obstructing the investigation. It was a compelling factor in leading Commissioner Goodell to uphold the suspension rather than reduce it, as he has often done in past disciplinary cases.
All that is interesting enough, but it’s not my focus. Football has for some time been elevated to the status of “America’s Game.” The game is intricate, complex, even cerebral, to be sure, but the things that often resonate about football are the elements of raw strength, power, and a level of physicality that frequently define the game.
Becky Hammon’s emergence on the scene as a successful basketball coach for the San Antonio Spurs is a rare air kind of development. It was surprising a year ago when she arrived, it was surprising last week when she led her team to the Las Vegas Summer League Championship, and it will certainly be surprising should she ever actually assume the reins of an NBA Head Coaching post.
But that’s basketball, a lofty perch, but a completely different kind of game. This weeks surprise comes from the NFL. On Monday, Jennifer Welter was hired as a training camp and preseason coaching intern for the inside linebackers position for the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals. The signing made her the first female coach in the NFL. This is her third “first” for men’s football in 2014 and 2015.
On January 24, 2014, the Revolution announced signing 5-foot-2, 130-pound Jennifer Welter as a running back. This made her the second female player for a position other than kicker or placekick-holder on a men’s professional football team, and the first at running back.
Welter is a veteran of several women’s “semi-pro” football teams (including the Dallas Diamonds and Dallas Dragons). She was a gold medal-winning member of Team USA at the International Federation of American Football’s (IFAF) Women’s World Championship in 2010 and 2013.
Cardinal’s Coach Bruce Arians had this to say about the landmark decision to bring Dr. Welter (that’s right, Dr.; I’ll get to that later) into the organization:
“Coaching is nothing more than teaching. One thing I have learned from players is, ‘How are you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, man, I’ll listen. I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors for her. She came for an OTA and I met her, and I thought she was the type of person that could handle this in a very positive way for women and open that door. Welter has earned this.”
For her part, Dr. Welter took to Twitter to express her appreciation:
Mike Freeman, of Bleacher Report, shared a text he received from a player in the AFC on Welter:
“The truth is, she has more playing experience than some of the coaches who coach me now.”
The NFL may traditionally be a man’s league, but Welter has the background to handle the spotlight. She played football professionally for 14 years and most recently served as an assistant coach for the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution. She also entered a game as a running back for the Revolution last year, becoming the first woman to appear in a men’s pro football contest at a contact position.
The Cardinals hiring Welter is fitting for a franchise that has embraced progress and created an exciting brand of football as a result. Adding Welter figures to breed more positive energy and enthusiasm within the organization. The Cardinals have experienced quite a culture change since Arians took the reins in 2013. Arians is known for his vertical passing-based offense, aggressive style and overall confidence, which has evidently rubbed off on his players and earned their respect as they’ve compiled a 21-11 record over the last two seasons.
That bold attitude includes the front office and general manager Steve Keim, who’s been unafraid to take risks in the draft. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and wide receiver John Brown were both polarizing third-round picks, but they’ve emerged as playmakers.
Welter has a long way to go to climb the NFL coaching ladder, but she’s already broken new ground. Although she isn’t in the position San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon was in recently when she led the squad to an NBA Summer League title, Welter’s gig in the desert provides the vital foundation for something greater.
She also brings a full Monty of educational qualifications to the table. Dr. Welter graduated from Boston College and has a master’s degree in Sport psychology and a PhD in psychology from Capella University, a for profit school in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
By the way, this is not the only NFL “first” recently. It’s the second such barrier to be broken this year. The league announced in April that Sarah Thomas would be the first woman to be a full-time NFL official. Just for the record, the NBA has had women Referees since 1997, when Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner entered the League’s pool of Referees. But, be that as it may, today is “Jen’s Turn: Apparently, It’s in the Cards!”
I’m done; holla back!
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