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Gender Law: Who Said Girls Can’t Coach Football?

Gender Law: Who Said Girls Can’t Coach Football?

Best Ohio Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawyers and Top Gender Discrimination Attorneys Answer: What is considered gender discrimination in the workplace? What are some examples of employment discrimination? What is discrimination against sexual orientation? Can my job discriminate based on LGBTQ+ status?

It’s Superbowl week! The NFL’s big game for all of the chips. What’s more shocking? Is it that the 49ers are in the Superbowl this year after going 4-12 last year (A reason for bosses and owners to not constantly cast blame and fire everyone when something goes wrong – are you listening Cleveland Browns)? Or is that one of their Assistant Coaches is the first gay, female coach to make it to the Superbowl? After winning only four games last season, it’s hard to believe that the San Francisco 49ers have made it to the Superbowl this year, sure. But, head coach Kyle Shanahan, who is known for seeing the bigger picture and making creative calls, made his most progressive call outside of the game. Featured on the 49er’s coaching staff is Katie Sowers, an openly gay, female. (See Katie Sowers: “The 49ers didn’t hire me as a coach to make a point”).

No one would expect the words “female,” “gay,” and “NFL” to ever be in the same sentence. But Katie Sowers’ entry onto the 49ers’s coaching staff three years ago changed everything. Not only because of her gender, Sowers is in the minority in the NFL for another reason too, because she is part of the LGBTQ+ community. At the time of her hiring, she became the third full-time female coach in all of NFL history.

Before these women were hired, there were an old and outdated excuses and stereotypes for not hiring women to coach men at the professional level. Some would say that women have never played the game before, but here is a list of male head coaches that never played the game before. So, that does not make sense. The worst excuse was that the players would not respect or listen to a female coach. Why? This is the same type of sexist excuse that leads to employment discrimination in the rest of our workplaces. Would it be acceptable or legal to refuse to promote a woman to manager at a restaurant or to an executive to head a department because of a fear that a woman will not be respected? Hell no. The answer is not to refuse to hire or promote female employees, the answer is that if there are a few subordinates that won’t respect a female boss then get rid of those sexist pigs. Quite frankly, I find it insulting to NFL players, who have mothers and daughters, to recklessly throw out there that they will not respect a woman coach. If NFL players will show Sowers the respect that she’s earned, it will work at every company, business, retail store and any other so-called male dominated industry.

As one of the first women to break the “glass barrier” and coach at the NFL level (a completely male-dominated industry), Sowers has a lot to brag about. But, she’s clearly much more interested in the actual game, not about her notoriety. When she was interviewed, Sowers stated, “I’m not here to be the token female. I’m here to help us win.” There’s something to be said about Sowers not wanting to be viewed as the team’s token female. She clearly does not think that she should have to prove that she is qualified for the position, just because it’s rare for women to coach football.

Sowers did not play football early on – she never played football in high school or college. But, when you think about it, it’s not really that big of a surprise. Females playing traditionally male-only sports was largely unheard of until recently, especially at the high school level. But even without football, Sowers was extremely athletic and played volleyball in high school and basketball, soccer, and track in college.

When you think about her prior attempts at coaching, it’s unbelievable that Sower has gotten so far. The first time she ever tried to coach a collegiate sport, Sowers faced horrible discrimination, because of her sexual orientation. After playing basketball at Goshen College in Indiana, Sowers asked her former basketball coach if she could be a volunteer coach for the team. However, her coach informed her that she could not coach, because she was gay. The coach was apparently worried about parents not wanting their daughter to be around a gay person. The craziest part is that Sowers wasn’t even asking for a paid position. She simply wanted to volunteer her free time, yet she was kept out of the coaching arena because of her sexual orientation. She was told not to take it personally, but how could she not take it personally?! (See 49ers’ Katie Sowers is the first women and openly gay coach in Super Bowl history).

Gender Law: Who Said Girls Can’t Coach Football?


But Sower’s first bad experience with coaching did not stop her athletic and professional career. After college, she discovered her true passion for football. Sowers played for a women’s professional team, the West Michigan Mayhem, which is a part of the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). (See Women’s Football Alliance; @WMichMayhem). While in the WFA, she was an amazing quarterback. She then went on to play for Team USA in 2013. When she transitioned to coaching football, Sowers was really nervous because of her past history with discrimination that her lifestyle would prevent her from being a coach. But, surprisingly a few top officials in the NFL turned out to be advocates for the LGBTQ+ community. Her own team, the 49ers have openly embraced Sowers’ sexuality. The team even has its own Pride Fan Club, for LGBTQ+ fans. (See 49ers Pride).

Though she may be humble about her success, Sowers opened the door for many women and young girls who dream of having sports careers. She regularly participates in speaking engagements, advocating for the LBGTQ+ community and for women. Recently, Sowers starred in a Surface Pro 7 commercial, where she served as an inspiration to little girls. She can be seen in the video telling young girls to “keep pushing” and that their “dream is coming.” (See Katie Sowers/ Surface Pro 7).

However, the whole time I was reading news articles about Katie Sowers coaching for the 49ers, I couldn’t shake an unsettling feeling that I had. Isn’t it kind of sad that it’s such a big deal for a female NFL coach to be openly gay? It’s 2020. Is it really that remarkable for an LGBTQ+ female to be coaching football? Is it that crazy to think that a female could really be knowledgeable about sports?

When trying to understand the reason for the pit I had in the bottom of my stomach, the only conclusion I could come to that we as a society are constantly gender stereotyping. The real reason Sower’s success is such big news currently is that gender stereotyping about both women and the LGBTQ+ community is still rampant. Gender stereotyping is a form of sex discrimination. Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins was the foundational case that confirmed that sex stereotyping was illegal under Title VII. Sexual stereotyping refers to having a specific idea about how people should act or behave based on their sex. Examples include telling women that they should dress more feminine or believing that only men can work in the sports industry. (See Do I Have A Wrongful Termination Claim If I Am Treated Differently For Not Conforming To Gender Stereotypes?). Evidently, because of inaccurate gender norms, people are still surprised that women can simultaneously be open about their sexual orientation and maintain a successful career in sports. The good thing is that there is a form of recourse for employees who are unfairly treated, because of gender stereotypes. Employees can bring a claim if they demonstrate 1) that they failed to conform with beliefs about their gender and 2) that the employee was treated differently for his or her failure to conform to those gender stereotypes.

Sowers was extremely fortunate that she was not discriminated against as an NFL football coach, because of her gender or LGBTQ+ sexual orientation. Both gender and sexual orientation discrimination are commonplace, as can be seen from her earlier coaching attempt. Sexual Orientation Discrimination refers to discrimination against an individual on the basis of their sexual orientation. While sex is a protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Ohio Revised Code 4112.02, it is still unclear if the law includes LGBTQ+ individuals. Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments to decide whether sexual orientation and transgendered status is protected under Title VII. (See Will Tomorrow’s Bosses Discriminate?).

It’s no secret that women who have careers in sports are in the minority. It’s been a slow movement for women gaining careers in the NFL. But, the Women’s Careers in Football Forum has been instrumental in getting the ball started. (See Women’s Careers In Football Forum; NFL Hosts 3rd Annual Women’s Careers In Football Forum). The forum is a place for prospective female coaches and scouts to meet with NFL coaches and important executives. And, it’s not just an organization in name only. It’s actually seen real results. During the 2017-2018 year, 26 women received positions, because of their participation in the forum. The forum’s website contains a quote by Troy Vincent, Executive Vice President of Football Operations, who said, “We are actively expanding opportunities for women by identifying and developing qualified individuals as part of the NFL’s inclusion efforts.”

Organizations like the Women’s Career in Football Forum are absolutely necessary, because gender discrimination in sports and all practically career fields is such a huge problem. Title VII protects against gender discrimination. Our employment law attorneys assist our clients by making them aware of their employment rights. We help you find out if you can sue your boss or supervisor for employment discrimination or wrongful termination. While our attorneys fight gender discrimination on the legal end, women like Sowers help fight it by making tremendous societal waves. And, it’s not just Sowers who has helped shape the future for women in high-powered positions. For instance, Ellen DeGeneres has changed the television world with her TV show, the Ellen DeGeneres Show. There has also been a lot of noise recently about female top soccer athletes who have come out as openly gay. Their sexuality has for the most part been celebrated (See Lesbian visibility at Women’s World Cup has impact far off the field). Another famous gay women in the news in recent times is Kate McKinnon, the Saturday Night Live Star (See Kate McKinnon Opens Up About Being Gay During Golden Globes). These women have helped bolster the arguments for greater protections for the LGBTQ+ community that our employment discrimination attorneys are making, while the Supreme Court decides this tough issue.

We have many blogs available on our website about sexual orientation discrimination. They provide a great resource for those of you who feel that you have been targeted at work, because of your sexual orientation. You are not alone and our employment law lawyers are here to assist you. (See What Are Cuyahoga’s New LGBTQ Discrimination Laws?; Can My Employer Openly Harass Me Because I’m Gay?; What Can I Do If I Was Fired Because I’m Gay! I Need The Top Sexual Orientation Lawyers And Employment LGBTQ Attorneys in Ohio!).

Gender Law: Who Said Girls Can’t Coach Football?

If you feel that you are being discriminated based on your gender or sex, then call the right attorney. It is never appropriate to discriminate against female employees. Discrimination against women includes being harassed, fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied a promotion, and denied wages or not receiving equal pay. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation, you will meet with an attorney from The Spitz Law Firm to discuss wrongful discrimination claims and help you determine the best way to pursue your gender/sex discrimination claims. Call us now!

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to gender discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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