When the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 37-20 to win the NFC Championship Game, it also made offensive assistant Katie Sowers a bit of history — as both the first woman and the first openly gay coach in Super Bowl history.
When the 49ers play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Feb. 2, Sowers will be part of the brain trust trying to win the first title for the 49ers since 1994. “Takin our talents to south beach,” Sowers posted on Instagram Sunday night.
Sowers, 33, is not a diversity hire. Football-obsessed since a young girl growing up in Kansas, she is a former player in the Woman’s Football Alliance and once intercepted five passes in a playoff game, returning three for touchdowns. This is her third season with the 49ers and she has impressed the players with her drive, knowledge and energy.
“She been tremendous,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said last week of Sowers. “Katie was here before I was, but just what she does with the receivers, all the skill positions guys, how she interacts with them. It’s special. She’s feisty, man. Katie is awesome out there. She’ll get after guys … It’s fun to be around.”
“Katie’s been phenomenal,” Juszczyk said. “She’s someone we’ve been able to lean on. If I ever have a question on a route or something, no hesitation and I can go talk to her. She’s a phenomenal asset to our team.”
Sowers credits her mentor, longtime executive Scott Pioli, with getting her on the NFL radar screen when Pioli was assistant general manager of the Atlanta Falcons and he hired Sowers in 2016 as a coaching intern in training camp and then a scouting intern. It was there she met Kyle Shanahan, then the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, and now the 49ers head coach, who hired her in San Francisco.
“Katie did a real good job for us in Atlanta, she’s done a really good job here,” Shanahan said. “She helps [receivers coach] Mike LaFleur out, just with some rotations and she helps our quality control [coaches] out just with all the stuff they have to do. She’s a hard worker, you don’t even notice her because she just goes to work and does what’s asked.”
What I love best about Sowers is that she is aware of and doesn’t try to downplay the fact that she’s an NFL rarity as both a woman and an openly gay coach. When I got a tip in 2017 that she was open about being a lesbian, she responded immediately to my inquiry and answered questions for a coming out story. She is also not shy about posting photos on Instagram of she and her girlfriend.
Sowers was featured this month in an ad for Microsoft that touted her trailblazing nature. And she regularly posts inspirational comments on her social media and has become a sought-after public speaker.
It’s to the 49ers’ credit that they have encouraged her to be public, unlike some teams that never want assistants talking. Her time in the spotlight will grower brighter on the biggest stage in U.S. sports starting next week when the Super Bowl rolls into Miami.