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Katie Sowers: NFL players don’t care if you’re gay, only if you can do your job

The former assistant coach, now coaching women in college, says performance is what matters in the NFL.

Katie Sowers on the sidelines in 2021 during her stint with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Katie Sowers on the sidelines in 2021 during her stint with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Two years after leaving the NFL coaching ranks to accept a job at a Kansas college coaching women’s flag football, Katie Sowers recalls her time in the pros fondly.

In a wide-ranging talk at the annual Elizabeth Dole Women in Leadership program honoring Sowers at the Robert Dole Institute of Politics at University of Kansas, Sowers said being openly gay in the NFL was easier than when she tried to coach at her alma mater and was denied the opportunity.

Professional football athletes put their job on the line daily and there were hundreds of people eager to take their place on the roster, she said. If an assistant coach, gay or not, could help a player improve on the field “they didn’t care who you are,” Sowers said.

“You don’t need a certain chromosome to be able to teach football,” she said. “If there is anything you get out of this, reflect on the biases that you have. The unconscious biases because we are in the way of equality. Every single one of us. We need to check ourselves. Once we can realize that we all have room for growth, I think we’ll see an enormous jump in the way society views women in this field.”

Sowers coached as an intern with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers before being hired as an offensive assistant with the 49ers and later moving to a brief stint with the Kansas City Chiefs. In the 2019 season she became the first out LGBTQ coach in a Super Bowl. Sowers came out in a 2017 article in Outsports.

Since leaving the NFL in 2021, Sowers was named the director of athletic strategic initiatives at Ottawa University in Kansas. She is also an assistant coach for the women’s flag football team at Ottawa, where her twin sister, Liz, is the head coach. Ottawa has won three NAIA championships and with flag football becoming an Olympic sport in 2028, the Sowers sisters could be coaching on an international stage.

One thing from her talk that I really admired was Sowers’ take on the issue of athletic participation by trans women.

She didn’t buy the argument of people advancing laws in Kansas and other states that saving women sports from transgender people in preschool through college required a statute limiting people to teams based on gender identification at birth.

“Why are we using this idea that we’re protecting women’s sports when we know that’s not,” Sowers said. “For me, I’d rather die knowing that I was maybe too accepting of a trans athlete because it provided them a chance to play.”

Sowers has always had a keen sense of justice and never shied away from using her platform as a “first” to speak out on important issues. Her talk at Kansas University reinforced that.