By Jake Crouse, Copy Editor
The first time kicker Patricia “Pat” Palinkas stepped onto a professional football field in 1970, newspapers described the retired educator as a “perky little blonde” and “nervy little school teacher.” On her first snap, the ball fumbled and Palinkas was forced to run laterally where opposing linebacker Walley Florence crushed her into the ground, commenting later that he “tried to break her neck…[for] making folly with a man’s game.” Had Florence played forty-five years later, he might have been trained by a female—Jen Welter of the Arizona Cardinals.
Last month, Welter was named assistant coaching intern for inside linebackers by head coach Bruce Arians. The promotion makes her the first female to coach in the National Football League. The move seemed well accepted by the team with defensive players like cornerback Patrick Peterson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter, a player who will be under her supervision, already tweeting their approval.
Welter is not a newcomer to setting records. She was the first female to play in a men’s professional league when the Texas Revolution, a of the Indoor Football League, signed her as a running back in January of 2014. A year later, she became the first female to coach in a men’s football league after the Revolution promoted her to Linebackers and Special Teams Coach.
The hiring had no shortage of coverage, soon becoming the top story on ESPN and trending on Facebook and Twitter. Many players in the football world and even the official NFL Twitter page Tweeted congratulations to the new coach. The most unexpected tweet, however, came from Vice President Joe Biden who commended Welter on “breaking barriers and reaching new heights.”
Against allegations that this was a public relations tool used by the Cardinals, Coach Arians insisted that Welter was the most qualified, and that the coaching staff of the Revolution had been reaching out to him over the previous year to stop by and watch her coach. He insists that any coach he hires, male or female, has to meet one criterion only.
“The minute they can prove they can make player better, they’ll be hired,” Arians said.
As for Welter, she says she is mentally preparing herself to transition from camp to regular season. When asked if she felt like a pioneer in a July news conference, welter had to agree.
“I’m blessed to be here,” Welter said. “I can’t think of a place I’d rather be or a coach I’d rather follow.”
Photo credits: http://www.abc.net.ac/