Out lesbian San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant coach Katie Sowers will be focused solely on the Kansas City Chiefs when she steps on the field in Miami for the Super Bowl on February 2.
But she knows she will also be making history — twice.
Sowers is set to become the first woman and first out LGBTQ person to coach a Super Bowl team, representing a major step forward for inclusion on the biggest of stages in American sports.
The 33-year-old coach, now in the midst of her fourth season in the NFL, has paved a unique path to the Super Bowl: She spent several years playing football for the West Michigan Mayhem and the Kansas City Titans of the Women’s Football Alliance, and only wound up with an NFL coaching gig in 2016 after she suffered a hip injury — an injury that would spark the beginning of an historic journey.
Sowers started off with an audition of sorts ahead of the 2016 season. The Atlanta Falcons hired her as an intern coaching wide receivers during training camp, at which point she made an immediate impact, and when the preseason concluded the team opted to keep her around as a scouting intern for the remainder of the season.
In 2017, then-Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan — Sowers’ boss in Atlanta — was hired to be the head coach of the 49ers, and Sowers was hired to join his staff in San Francisco as a seasonal offensive assistant. It was that year that Sowers came out as lesbian, clearly demonstrating that she felt comfortable enough in the NFL environment she grew accustomed to since she entered the league in 2016.
In 2019, Sowers was promoted to offensive assistant and helped lead the 49ers to a 13-3 record, a pair of playoff victories, and a spot in the Super Bowl.
Sowers’ storybook rise to the NFL spotlight is even more impressive when one considers the obstacles she faced long before she started shattering glass ceilings in a male-dominated league. After playing college basketball at Goshen College, she sought a volunteer coaching gig on the team following graduation.
She was ultimately rejected — but not because she lacked competence. It was, she said, because of her sexual orientation.
“I was told, ‘Because of your lifestyle, we ask that you do not come around the team,’” she recalled in a 2017 interview with Outsports.com.
The Super Bowl spotlight on Sowers prompted the school to finally apologize — more than a decade later — for discriminating against the coach, though the school’s president chalked it up to school policies of the past.
“Sadly, in 2009, our policies and the laws of Indiana allowed for hiring decisions to consider sexual orientation,” the school’s president, Rebecca Stoltzfus, said in a written statement in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. “I am glad that Goshen College adopted a new non-discrimination policy in 2015, and I am thankful for the leaders before me who brought this change about, not the least of whom were our students and alumni.”
Stoltzfus went on to praise Sowers for her historic accomplishments, saying, “Sowers has achieved in her life and the ways that she leads on and off the football field with authenticity, grace, and excellence. She has publicly shared her journey to coaching, including the barriers she faced related to her sexual orientation when seeking a volunteer coaching position at Goshen College.”
Sowers said the homophobic snub upset her for some time, but in the end she opted to take the high road and move on — and she did so with professionalism. She also went on to come out yet again, as all queer folks find themselves doing throughout their lives, when she reached new professional heights.
In finding a home in professional football, Sowers has simultaneously conquered the homophobia that gripped her early adulthood and achieved her childhood dreams of making it in the NFL. She starred in an inspirational Microsoft Surface commercial during regular season games this season when she recalled notes she recorded in a journal during her youth.
“I hope someday I will be on a real football team,” she said. “I’m not just here to be the token female. I’m here to help us win … I would want to tell this little girl to keep pushing herself. Your dream is coming.”
Sowers is also well aware of the many other girls and women around the nation who share the same dreams she had as a child. She offered some advice to parents in a tweet on January 14, writing, “If your daughter has a dream of being a football coach in the NFL… or a ballerina… or a professional soccer player… or a teacher… or a nurse… or a doctor… or an astronaut… or even PRESIDENT… just let her know this… She. Can. Do. It. And she will change the world.”
Sowers still stands in rare company — only eight women coached in the NFL this season, and only four served full-time roles — but she isn’t done dreaming. She is holding out hope that she can someday lead an NFL team, telling NBC Sports that she “absolutely” hopes to become a head coach at some point in the future.
The future is bright for coach Sowers, but first things first: A date at the Super Bowl.