Success of women in the NFL shows 'diversity wins', says Washington's Jennifer King
Newly-promoted Washington assistant running backs coach Jennifer King discusses the growing opportunities for women in the NFL after recently becoming the first African American female assistant position coach in league history.
By Hannah Wilkes
Last Updated: 08/03/21 9:37am
Washington Football Team's Jennifer King believes the achievements of female coaches in the NFL in 2020 represent further evidence that 'diversity wins'.
King was among six female coaches involved in last season's playoffs and made history when she came up against Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar on Wild Card weekend, marking the first time female coaches from opposing teams had met in the postseason.
Head coach Ron Rivera hired King as an intern in 2018 to kickstart her NFL coaching career during his time with the Carolina Panthers, while the Bucs' Bruce Arians famously made intern Jen Welter the first women coach in the league in 2015 with the Arizona Cardinals.
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Their success, particularly in the case of recently-crowned Super Bowl champion Arians, lays claim to the value in enhancing diversity hiring.
"It's huge," King told Sky Sports. "I don't think it's a coincidence the success a lot of those teams had just because diversity wins and those new cultures that they're creating are being successful and it's really exciting to see women do so many great things in the league."
King, who cites taking inspiration from Olympic icon Jackie Joyner-Kersee and former tennis star Zina Garrison, was recently promoted to assistant running backs coach in Washington having served as a full-year coaching intern in 2020.
In doing so she became the first African American female assistant position coach in NFL history and just the second female assistant position coach in the league behind Tampa's Locust. Back in November Cleveland Browns chief of staff Callie Brownson became the first woman to coach an NFL position group in a regular season game as she took over for absent tight ends coach Drew Petzing.
Speaking at the fifth annual NFL Women's Careers in Football Forum, Arians expressed how he had enjoyed having the perspective of women on the sidelines, hailing their 'intuition' and 'ability to read people'.
King believes her playing career with the Carolina Phoenix, New York Sharks and DC Divas from 2006 to 2019 has also contributed to her expertise as a coach.
"I think my background, playing quarterback and working with receivers has been very helpful working with running backs just because of how they're used in our offense," she added.
"Our backs are very eclectic in their talents, they catch the ball, they run the ball, they have to protect so I think being able to build on those relationships and share those messages with them is huge for me and the development of our guys."
The league's Women's Careers in Football Forum has created 118 opportunities for women in football since being introduced as a pipeline towards more jobs by Senior Director of Diversity Sam Rapoport in 2017.
Its setup is designed to give aspiring coaches and team personnel access to interaction with NFL and college team executives, coaches, general managers and owners as a means of building contacts, sharing ideas and receiving guidance.
"I think programmes like the NFL forum has been great for women getting opportunities and also the head coaches and organisations that are willing to be different and change the kind of status quo of hiring practices in the league," King continued. "Coach Arians, Coach Rivera, Coach (Todd) Bowles when he was with the Jets, they've all done great jobs and there are more people hopping on board now.
"It's been a great network, we're all really tight and I think we all pull for each other and wish each other well which is really cool to see because we're all on the same journey together so it's been really nice to have a group of people on this ride with me and we're in constant contact with me.
"It's so important that the ones in the positions we're in do a good job and ultimately there will be more behind us and eventually it really won't be much of a story when a women gets these positions."
Jennifer King on paving the way for future female coaches
Upon entering the league King soon found herself among a minority of active female coaches, however recalls embracing the opportunity to inspire change and progress.
"Once I started seeing people like Jen and Katie Sowers getting opportunities I think I kind of had that mindset that it was okay to be the first and it was okay to create something you can't see.
"It's a blessing to be in this position and to be able to kind of lead the way. I'm hoping there will be many more coming behind me so it's definitely up to me to do a really good job and just to make sure I help people get to where I am."
King started out as an assistant coach Greensboro College's basketball programme from 2006 to 2016 before later being appointed as women's basketball head coach at Johnson & Wales University in North Carolina, not too far from the Panthers' practice facility.
She went on to meet coach Rivera as one of 40 women at the 2018 NFL Women's Forum, impressing enough to be brought onboard as a wide receivers coaching intern before later moving on to AAF team Arizona Hotshots as a full-time assistant wide receivers and special teams coach.
It was back to Carolina the next year as a running backs coaching intern in the wake of the AAF folding, followed by a spell as offensive assistant at Dartmouth until King found her way to Washington.
Her message to those striving to follow in her footsteps: be ready.
"First and foremost you have to put the work in, you have to gain the knowledge and that's most important," she said. "And then once you started building contacts and you get your opportunities be ready for those opportunities to do a really good job.
"I think it's so important to combine those two things and it's already hard to get to this level if you're a guy or girl anyway, so you have to separate yourself in some way and knowledge will do that and also making those connections."