Breaking Barriers in Professional Sports

with Jennifer King of the Washington Football Team

Advocates say the male-dominated sports industry has been slow to accept women, but increasingly, women are breaking barriers in professional sports.

Jennifer King, Assistant Coach of the Washington Football Team, shares how her passion for the game of football at a young age set her on a path toward breaking gender barriers of her own.

Posted on:

January 29, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Women in sports are doing amazing things on and off the field, breaking barriers and defying the odds every single day. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Advocates say the male-dominated sports industry has been slow to accept women in a variety of positions. But more and more women are being seen as important contributors, and their opportunities are growing. One example is Jennifer King. She's an assistant coach at the Washington Football Team, and she's joining me now to talk about all of this. And, Jennifer, thanks for taking the time to be here.

King: Thanks so much for having me.

Anderson: So this has been years in the making for you. I know that when you were in middle school and high school, coaches wanted you to join their football teams. Your mom said no. What was really the impetus for your passion for the game of football? Where did that start?

King: I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, so, you know, those small towns, football is king on Friday night. So, that's really where it started -- always going to a game on Fridays and sometimes Saturdays to watch football, and I come from a football family. So, it was always a big part of what we were doing, and I kind of couldn't help but fall in love with it.

Anderson: And this wasn't accidental for you to get to the place where you are today. I know that you've said there was a whole lot of strategy involved. What are some of the conscious choices and sacrifices that you made in order to get to this point?

King: One of the biggest things was -- was meeting new people, reaching out to people who I felt could possibly help me, and they were very receptive to what I wanted to do. And, obviously, when I became a head college basketball coach in Charlotte, I was next door to the Panthers facility at the time. So, I had to find a way to meet Coach Rivera. And luckily, I was able to do that in Orlando, Florida, at the Women in Football Forum, put on by Sam Rapoport with NFL.

Anderson: And speaking of the head coach, Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team, he said that when he named you, he made a very specific point to say that you're not a token, and you're absolutely not a token, but, you know, this is still a very male-dominated sport. And I wonder how the players respond to you. You're the first black woman at the professional level coaching. What does that feel like? How do they deal with you? How do you deal with them?

King: The guys have been great. Every stop along my football coaching journey has been awesome. The guys have been very receptive, and you quickly find at the professional level, you know, any thing that you can do to help them and bring value to the team. That's what it's all about. So I haven't had a hard time with the guys, as long as I'm making them better and giving them little nuggets to help them on Sundays.

Anderson: So, you haven't had a hard time with them, but are you giving them a hard time?

King: No, I don't think I give them too much of a hard time. You know, obviously, our standard is high, so just ensuring that they're always living up to that standard on and off the field is the biggest thing. But they they've been awesome.

Anderson: So, we're living in an era where obviously there is a lot of institutional barriers that have been coming down, whether it's the first Black female vice president, whether it's you and the contribution that you're making to the sport of football. How do you see the NFL really sort of harnessing this window of change? And where do you see the organization going in the next 10 years? What are your hopes?

King: Yeah, I think I can speak for women in the NFL. There are a lot of women in this league doing really good things at the league level and team level. And as I mentioned before, Sam Rapoport with the league has done a fantastic job creating opportunities for women in the NFL with the league and with teams through her Women in Football Forums. They've been really valuable to identifying qualified women to take those positions, and the teams really seem to be very receptive to these and, essentially, putting women in front of general managers and head coaches and people to make decisions, and it's very exciting to see how women will contribute in the NFL in the future. I think we're on a great path. I think there's a great group now coaching, but also behind the scenes doing fantastic jobs on the business side and social media sides, as well. So, I'm excited to see where it goes.

Anderson: And, you know, you're a first, right? But you're definitely not going to be the last, and I wonder what advice you have for women in any sport, whether it's football, basketball, soccer, who are trying to do some of the things that you're trying to do. What would you say to them when it comes to staying the course, keeping on that path, and doing specific things to be successful and get a seat at the table -- or on the field?

King: I think one of the biggest things is just keep going. There's going to be hardships along the way. People may laugh at the dreams that you have, and that's okay, you know. Don't be afraid to have those dreams so big that people laugh at you, and that was a nugget that I picked up, actually, at the Women in Football Forum. But keep going, keep striving, and keep dreaming. And anything else you want to do, you can do it. It may not be easy, but just keep keep going. That's all I always say.

Anderson: Jennifer King with the Washington Football Team, thank you so much for being here.

King: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, be sure to log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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