The NFL is a man’s world.
At least, that’s what people see when they look on the sidelines at a football game. Coaches, assistant coaches, referees and managers are mostly male. Even though the NFL’s staff at league headquarters is 30 percent female, those are not the people you see on the big screen directing a team to a win.
The NFL announced that it plans to expand the Rooney Rule — a guideline set to ensure that minority groups get interview opportunities — to require interviewing at least one female candidate as well. But guaranteeing an interview doesn’t secure women those jobs, even if it gives them a chance.
The league is almost notoriously bad at equitable gender hiring. It only came to have its first female coach in 2015, when the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter as a linebacker assistant coaching intern. And even then, she was only hired for the preseason and no longer holds the position.
A female head coach is almost unimaginable.
The NFL might be trying to move forward with this rule. It may be trying to level the playing field for women. It might be trying to empower them.
The league recently held it’s first Women’s Summit the purpose of which was to “encourage broad support for girls’ athletic participation.” This still doesn’t help when the league’s sanctions for sexual assault and domestic abuse are so slim.
But it is still overlooking rules that make empowerment and safety almost impossible for women who are sexually abused by the league’s own players.
When charged with sexual assault or domestic violence, an NFL football player will be suspended for six games on first offense. This leaves players 10 games they can still play on in the regular season. What’s more, the NFL holds the strictest first offense punishment of all professional sports leagues.
A second offense suspends players for a year.
Professional athletes are the modern heroes of the United States, and if these heroes get off with easy punishments for their misdeeds, the public isn’t going to think their actions are bad. The public might even defend them.
One thing the NFL has done to take a stand against sexual assault and domestic abuse is not allow college football players convicted of these crimes to participate in the annual scouting combine prior to the NFL Draft. Although this does not prevent these players from getting drafted, it can affect which round they are selected, as teams may be less likely to select a player who doesn’t participate in the combine.
While this doesn’t completely ban these players, it puts a roadblock in their way and could possibly prevent some from being picked by a team.
But even if the NFL continues to make its handling of domestic abuse and sexual assault stricter, there are other parts of the culture that put down women. Mark Herzlich, a Giants linebacker who speaks out against domestic abuse said he hears a lot of locker room talk denigrating women, and because it is such a male-dominated atmosphere, the men say things they would never say when a woman is around.
You need a certain level of expertise and certain skills to be an NFL coach. Most of them coach college football teams before they move on to the professional league. But for women, coaching at high levels in a sport like football is extremely hard.
Maybe the argument is that because there’s no female equivalent played through high school and college, women aren’t fit to coach these teams. But they’re simply just never given the opportunity, even in the lower levels of coaching.
So does that mean the change has to start from the bottom up?
The NFL has the power to set the precedent and pave the way for countless women to follow their passion — if it is indeed their passion to become an NFL coach — by simply starting that change. Give women more opportunities where the nation can see them and maybe it’ll trickle down to those lower levels of play.
Not only that, but having a woman in the locker room and in those testosterone-filled spaces can bring a new perspective and diversity into the field.
Forty-four percent of NFL’s audience is female, so why not represent that gender diversity on the sidelines as well as in the bleachers?