Buffalo Bills coach joins growing ranks of women in men’s sports leagues

Posted at 10:29 AM, Jan 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-21 10:29:14-05

The small number of female pioneers involved in key roles in men’s sports leagues grew once more Wednesday when the Buffalo Bills added Kathryn Smith to their special teams staff.

The past 18 months have seen significant hirings by the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball.

They include: the first (and second) female full-time assistant coach in the NBA, the first female full-time NFL official, the first female instructor employed by a Major League team, the first female assistant coaching intern in the NFL and the first female to be an assistant coach for an NFL team.

Here is a breakdown of the women making history.

Becky Hammon, NBA

In August 2014, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich hired her as an assistant coach. The former WNBA star became the first woman on an NBA staff since Lisa Boyer, who was a volunteer assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2001-2002. Hammon coached a Spurs’ summer league team to a title in 2015. Despite going undrafted in 1999, Hammon was named one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time in July 2011. She’s eighth in league history in points with 5,809.

Jen Welter, NFL

Her position was only temporary but Welter is consider the NFL’s first female coach. In July the Cardinals hired her as an assistant coaching intern, a position that had her working with the team’s inside linebackers. But when the preseason ended in September the team declined to keep her on. She told CNN that “we now proved that guys can be coached be women.”

Sarah Thomas, NFL

The NFL became the second of the four major U.S. sports leagues to hire a female full-time official in April. Thomas, 42, started with high school games in Mississippi in 1996. Fifteen years later she was the first woman to officiate a college bowl game. She also worked NFL preseason games and scrimmages. “The guys don’t think of me as a female. They see me as just another official,” she said when she was hired.

Justine Siegal, MLB

It wasn’t a position in The Show, but Siegal got a chance to put on the Oakland Athletics’ uniform this past fall, coaching some of the organization’s young prospects. She threw batting practice pitches, worked with infielders on their defensive skills and led classroom presentations.

She said she hoped that her two-week stint as the first female coach for a major league team would lead to a full-time job with the A’s.

Nancy Lieberman, NBA

One of the greatest female basketball players ever, Lieberman joined the Sacramento Kings in August as an assistant coach. “The things that have happened to me in my career when they put — well, she was the first or she did that, it’s really not about me. It’s just about opening doors and opening people’s minds,” she told CNN. Lieberman is a Hall of Famer and a two-time Olympian. She played in the WNBA’s first season in 1997 when she was 39.