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Katie Sowers, the only out gay coach in Super Bowl history, has ties to the 49ers and Chiefs

The LGBTQ sports trailblazer was on the sidelines the last time the 49ers and Chiefs played in the Super Bowl. It gives her mixed emotions for the game.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers, with head coach Kyle Shanahan to her left, prior to the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 2, 2020.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Katie Sowers will watch Super Bowl LVIII in her Overland Park, Kan., home with players from the college women’s flag football team she coaches, filled with mixed emotions. Sowers coached for the San Francisco 49ers. She also coached for the Kansas City Chiefs. Whom to root for?

“It’s such a strange situation to be in,” Sowers told Outsports. “On one hand, it brings back all the feelings of when [the 49ers lost in the Super Bowl in 2020], but then on the other hand, I know how great it is for[Kansas City] to celebrate a win. I have no idea who I’m rooting for.

“It’s like a win-win, lose-lose,” she added, saying that she would love to see 49ers she coached like wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle get a ring, while at the same time she admired Chiefs coach Andy Reid, so is rooting for him.

Sowers was on the sideline as an offensive assistant coach for the 49ers in February 2020 when the Chiefs came back from a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit to win 31-20. She knows the pain of coming so close and that’s one reason she thinks San Francisco will win on Sunday.

“You know, you can almost taste it and then it slips away. I think they’re not going to let that happen again,” she said. “My gut kind of tells me the Niners are out for revenge.”

Sowers became a notable storyline in that previous Super Bowl as the first woman and first openly gay coach in the game’s history. She was one of the most-sought interviews on media night, an honor seldom given to an assistant coach, but a recognition of her role as a trailblazer.

Sowers spent four seasons in San Francisco, leaving after the 2020 season and was an assistant in Kansas City in the 2021 preseason, a great fit since she was born and raised in Kansas. After leaving the Chiefs, she 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.

She doesn’t see coaching women in college a step down from the NFL.

“I feel like a lot of people get disappointed when they hear I’m not in the NFL,” she said. “And I get it, you know, but at the same point, I’m coaching, in my opinion, some of the most badass players that happened to be women now. Some of the most passionate, and they’re not making millions and they’re actually trying to figure out how to pay for school. Those are the true heroes.”

In reflecting on her five years in the NFL, Sowers offered an interesting perspective that as a lesbian she occupied a niche that was non-threatening to both the players (all men, obviously) and their wives and girlfriends.

“I actually felt a lot of fear was not of the LGBT community. It was a fear of feminism, which is why I think I personally was almost more accepted as one of the boys,” she said. “I was considered maybe a little safer than what might be have been for a straight woman in the locker room or a gay man. I think if I was a straight woman, I think it would have been a totally different dynamic.

“I never felt like, you know, anyone could ever can consider my experience to be the same as that of a gay man that would come out. Because I do think there is there’s some extremely different dynamics that are in play that kind of aren’t talked about enough.”

Sowers said that while she thinks it might be tougher for a gay man to come out in the NFL than a gay woman, she see signs of change in the attitudes she witnessed from players during her time in the league. She cited the positive reaction to Jacksonville Jaguars assistant strength coach Kevin Maxen coming out this past season.

“I know that there are so many great men in the NFL that are so open to accepting these people, regardless of who they love or where they come from or anything like that,” she said. “I do see it becoming less of an issue as we keep moving forward.”

Back to this year’s Super Bowl, I asked her what lessons she drew from coaching under Reid in Kansas City and Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. Shanhan, she said, unlike Reid, was never going to give a rah-rah pregame speech.

“With Kyle, a lot of his leading comes from the X’s and O’s. ... On tape, he would put it up in front of everybody and give you all the answers, so that even if it was a blowout he would make it seem like it was inches that could have made the difference in whatever game he was discussing. He always had this brilliant way of getting that motivation from players through the X’s and O’s.

“On the other hand, you have Andy Reid, who is exactly what he appears to be on TV in his interviews. He’s kind of like a teddy bear and like he’s the dad you want to make proud. Despite those styles, they both know the game inside and out, but they have extremely different ways when it comes to motivation.”

In March, Sowers will head to Italy for several months as the coach of the Italian women’s flag football team. It’s a job she is very excited for as she gets the team ready for the world championships in Finland in August. If all goes well, Sowers hope to take Italy to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, where flag football has its debut.

Before that, she is spending three days in Las Vegas as part of an EA Sports clinic and panel on women’s flag football during Super Bowl week. Then on Sunday she’ll be watching the game with her Ottawa players and rooting for the many 49ers and Chiefs she has coached.

One of these players is Travis Kelce, the Chiefs tight end who is now better known at the boyfriend of Taylor Swift.

“You could have had Travis Kelce and been famous,” I said to her jokingly.

“I just want to go for Taylor Swift instead,” she replied. “You never know, maybe I’ll take my shot.”