NFL coach Jen Welter says video games can 'open doors' for girls
By James Simpson
Last Updated: 13/05/19 5:48pm
Jen Welter, the NFL's first female coach, is on a mission to empower girls to push past gender stereotypes on and off the football field.
Welter was the first woman to play at a contact position in men's football, the first to coach in a men's professional football league, and most famously, the first female coach in the NFL when she joined the Arizona Cardinals in 2015 to coach their inside linebackers in training camp and pre-season.
With her experience and success as a pioneer in a male-dominated field, Welter has used her profile to show the way, including teaming up with gaming company TOYA on a three-game series designed to give young women every opportunity to follow her path.
"It's really exciting for me because I've become aware of the impact of what we see in passing, how kids know what they could possibly be," Welter told Sky Sports.
"I would tell people it was never a goal of mine to coach in the NFL because I could not look on the sidelines and say 'oh my gosh, I want to be her when I grow up'.
"I grew up playing video games and yet it never really occurred to me that there weren't girls in the video games.
"Here I am, somebody who was very conscious of loving games as a kid - I was a competitive kid so I could get into it - not being able to see girls playing football or later coaching football and knowing that I had not had permission to see myself that way, to see myself as a coach."
"When I heard that 44 per cent of gamers are girls but there are very few female protagonists in those games and that they wanted to design games exclusively around strong females who could show these girls what's possible in this world, I said 'absolutely'.
"This was the coolest thing I've ever heard and I can share a little of those stories and how to do it for football."
Welter hopes that the 'Coach Jen' series can show children at a young age the traits and beliefs that they can hold onto in the future - traits they don't always get to see on the big or small screens that occupy their time
"You are practising that competitive spirit and wanting to compete - and in an environment where it's not wrong to do it, it's actually right.
"So these little girls can say: 'I want to play football, I want to win, I am going to celebrate when I score points' and I really do believe those things translate into competitiveness and competition - because it's normal."
As a child, Welter would play Super Mario, Mike Tyson's 'Punch-Out!!' and later Mortal Kombat ("I would play those games until I won," she said), and believes gaming environments can have a huge impact in how children form their view of the real world.
"I never would have thought I could see myself in a video game," she said. "And now we are going to do a video game where all of these girls can see a girl playing football and it's normal or the boys can say: 'a female coaching or a girl playing, those are normal'.
"Then, when you get into a situation in society, it's not abnormal because you've already been conditioned to believe that it's possible.
"That is one of the powerful things with having females in that role. It's opening the door that most people - if you were never challenged to think about it - wouldn't even realise was particularly closed.
"So those kids get to grow up with it being normal."
Sky Sports was speaking to Jen Welter following the launch of the third game in TOYA's 'Coach Jen' series designed to raise awareness of the issue of gender in games of all types, and the work they are both doing to tackle it.