By Steve Keating
MIAMI (Reuters) – With two female team owners, two global pop stars headlining the halftime show and a trailblazing coach Super Bowl LIV might well be remembered for the super women who will usher the National Football League into a new era.
When the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers take to Hard Rock Stadium field on Sunday, it will mark the end of the NFL’s 100th season.
The second 100 will look very different.
The most telling sign of what is to come will be found on the San Francisco sideline where a global television audience and close to 100 million Americans will see something they have never seen before, the first woman to coach in a Super Bowl — 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers.
The 33-year-old just happens also to be the NFL’s first openly gay coach.
“It is literally a dream come true,” said Sowers, soaking in the buzz around Super Bowl Opening Night. “Growing up I knew I either wanted to be a coach, a teacher or a counselor and I kind of got all three.
“This is just what comes with it and I am willing and happy to be a trailblazer because I know that other women, other young girls are watching this and maybe their path is a little clearer now.”
After the game it will be either 49ers co-chair Denise York or Norma Hunt, a Chiefs owner, standing under a confetti shower hoisting the Lombardi trophy.
As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell proudly noted, it will be first game in which two women will occupy the owners’ boxes.
The halftime show will feature two Latina pop giants with Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, performing together for the first time, saying they too have a message for young women.
“The 49ers and Chiefs are run by women and you’ve got two women heading the halftime show. That statement alone for me is empowering,” said Lopez.
While Sowers’ part in the Super Bowl panorama may be small, her impact on the sport and U.S. culture is likely to be much deeper than the fleeting social media buzz generated by Lopez and Shakira or billionaire owners.
Sowers is not the first woman to work in the NFL. Jen Welter broke that glass ceiling in 2015 when she joined the Arizona Cardinals staff. This year there were four women, including Sower, with full-time coaching jobs.
But coaching on Sunday in America’s biggest sporting event has put a spotlight on Sowers and diversity in a way that only the Super Bowl could.
“I want the narrative to be that I’m a coach,” said Sowers. “It is not just men who can lead men, it’s not that women can lead men, it’s that people can lead if they are true leaders.
“I don’t have to be anyone but myself, continue to be yourself, be authentic and you will find your path.”
In love with football from when she was a kid and would go to school wearing a Deion Sanders jersey, Sowers’ road to the NFL began with a chance meeting with former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli.
Sowers coached his daughter’s fifth-grade basketball team and immediately Pioli recognized her potential.
When he moved to the Atlanta Falcons he recommended her for an intern position.
In Atlanta Sowers caught the attention of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who was so impressed he brought her to San Francisco when he became head coach.
“She knows the game inside and out, she understands the fundamentals,” Pioli told Reuters. “She understands a lot of the nuance, she’s an incredibly hard worker.”
A big challenge facing the NFL has been a lack of diversity, particularly the hiring of black and minority coaches.
But no one sees Sowers’ inclusion as tokenism. One of the NFL’s most innovative thinkers, Shanahan brought her on board for just one reason — because she can make the team better.
“It doesn’t matter who you are as long as they know you are there to make them better,” said Sowers. “Diversity is so important. The more diversity you have the more power you have.
“You have more minds that are thinking about different things, bringing different ideas, and the more you can have a diverse set of people the better your team is going to be and that’s what we found in San Francisco.”
Sowers said she is prepared for the Super Bowl spotlight and eager to let the world know dreams do come true.
“I’m telling them (kids with dreams) you can,” said Sower. “That’s the important thing about being visible.
“If you don’t see it you can’t dream about it.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Daniel Wallis)