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Jen Welter joining the NFL is a huge win for women in sports

“I started playing football 15 years ago and I fell in love.” Jen Welter, Coaching Intern with the Arizona Cardinals

The summer of 2015 has been anything but quiet for women in sports.

First, it was the U.S. World Cup Soccer Team, who captured their first title since 1999 — and the hearts of our country. And now, the Arizona Cardinals have made history by naming Jen Welter a coaching intern for linebackers. She is believed to be the first woman to be given the title of coach ever in the National Football League. Now, there will be two women working the sidelines in the NFL, as Welter joins female line judge Sarah Thomas on the field during the 2015 NFL preseason.

Welter was a logical choice to become one of six intern coaches this season for the Cards. She played professionally for 14 years, and was an assistant coach for the Indoor Football league’s Texas Revolution. She also holds a master’s degree in sports psychology. But what this hire says to the world speaks more about the changing culture of women in sports. She will be the first woman actually allowed, invited and accepted into the men’s football inner sanctum.

Welcome to the boys club Jen.

Imagine what that must feel like — to be the first woman behind those closed doors? Football in this country isn’t just America’s favorite past time — it’s worshiped, loved, praised, analyzed and adored. And it’s a place some girls could previously only dream of being. But now, Jen Welter has opened up the hallowed doors to this beloved league — and more importantly the conversation that women can and will succeed in professional football.

Welter is only the second woman to be named a coach in a major men’s professional league, as Becky Hammon joined the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach in 2014. And while her position as an intern coach for six weeks isn’t full time or even permanent, it’s a step; one small footprint with a very large impact.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, it is estimated that in 2014 over 1,700 girls played high school football in America, and many struggle to find their place and acceptance in this primarily boys sport. Professional female athletes in this country are paid less, and treated as inferiors as compared to male competitors in many respects. Normally, it’s the men’s teams who are celebrated and heralded in the media But this summer, it appears the attitude has shifted — particularly with the U.S. Women winning the World Cup as their male counterparts fizzled at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. In addition, Serena Williams won her 21st Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, while the American men could not even reach the quarterfinals. Even Becky Hammon led the Spurs Summer League team to the Las Vegas Summer League Championship.

Welter could be the perfect trailblazer to make this first journey for women into the world of football. She’s tough, smart and passionate about her sport. In her press conference to the media, Welter spoke a lot about the role models young girls have today, and said something to help motivate and inspire them:

“I want little girls to grow up and know that if they put their mind to it, they can do anything.”

She’s proving they can do just that.

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