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NFL’s first gay assistant coach honored by Pro Football Hall of Fame

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49ers’ Katie Sowers gets recognized in Canton.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers
Katie Sowers fist bumps running back Raheem Mostert the 49ers season opener.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Katie Sowers of the San Francisco 49ers made history last month when she came out publicly on Outsports as the first openly gay coach -- male or female — in the NFL. She is now being recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sowers, in her first year as Seasonal Offensive Assistant for the 49ers, donated her game binder and coaching shirt from her regular season debut Sept. 10 to the Hall of Fame, located in Canton, Ohio.

The display is deserving since one of the Hall of Fame’s mission is to honor historic achievements, and Sowers fits that bill.

Our sister site, Niners Nation, ran an article on this and, of course, it didn’t take too long for some commenters to miss the point.

“Must be nice to get a piece of clothing in the NFL HOF because you belong to a protected class of people.

“Being a lesbian is the only reason this got put on display. Not because she has done anything remarkable with her coaching, other than just being "out" with her sexual preference.”

A protected class of people? Tell that to LGBT people in 28 states who can be fired solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Fortunately, many people who commented understood why honoring Sowers is important.

  • “A lot of people, historically (and not even in just a sports sense) have been secluded from participation. Many of those who have daughters who are straight/gay/whatever have probably wanted to have this job and thought it wasn’t possible. This acknowledgement points to it being possible. I think that’s very important, especially for a developing mind. There’s nothing worse than telling your kid he/she can’t do something that they are dreaming of doing.”
  • “Not that it’s the same equivalency, but Jackie Robinson getting into the major leagues opened the door for all the black players to enter the league. Never discount the power of the first person breaking down that door.

    “If I had a gay daughter, I would be very happy to see other gay women getting recognized like this.”

Sowers came out publicly after she was hired by the Niners, and it was a hire based solely on her merits as a coach. The fact that she is the first gay coach and only second woman in NFL history are important milestones, but she will be judged on how the 49ers view her coaching abilities and nothing else. It’s how it should be.