Professional football, despite its reputation and its dangers, is becoming an increasingly inclusive place. Female executives have populated the front offices of NFL teams for decades. Michael Sam, the college defensive standout and first openly gay player to be drafted, got a chance to fight for a roster spot on two different teams before walking away from the sport last year.
On Wednesday night, Kathryn Smith, who has worked in the NFL for several years, became the first woman to be named a full-time member of a coaching staff. Smith will serve as a special-teams coach for the Buffalo Bills under their charismatic leader Rex Ryan. (Coincidentally enough, in 2014, Daniel Snyder argued in The Atlantic that Michael Sam would have made a great fit for Ryan’s defense.)
In announcing the hire, Ryan eschewed mention of the noteworthiness of the moment and choose to highlight Smith’s extensive resume instead:
Kathryn Smith has done an outstanding job in the seven years that she has worked with our staff. She certainly deserves this promotion based on her knowledge and strong commitment, just to name a couple of her outstanding qualities, and I just know she's going to do a great job serving in the role of Quality Control-Special Teams.
If you thought reaction to Smith’s hire was going to be universally positive or, perhaps encouragingly seen as not a big deal, prepare yourself for disappointment.