Thu, Sep 17, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Woman trailblazer hopes to set trend

AFP, WASHINGTON

Jennifer Welter caused a stir when she accepted an invitation by Floyd Mayweather Jr’s camp to attend what he insists was the last fight of his career on Saturday.

Some said she should not associate with a man who, while being one of the best boxers of his generation, is equally notorious for a string of cases of domestic violence.

However, Welter is used to confounding the critics.

This summer she became what is believed to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.

Like boxing, the NFL is a notoriously male-dominated sport and one which in recent times has hit the headlines for a series of unsavory incidents of domestic violence against women.

Welter, 37, who was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coaching intern for training camp and pre-season to work with inside linebackers, believes in creating change from within — hence why she accepted the Mayweather invitation.

“Hopefully what I did was to create an opportunity to open the door where other women will come through and do not only what I have done, but even more so,” Welter said, reflecting on her trailblazing experience within the NFL.

Welter, who said she was given a “great” reception from the first time that she entered the Cardinals locker room, is keen to stress that domestic violence is a wider problem and not something only the NFL has to grapple with.

She also makes it clear — as he did — that Cardinals coach Bruce Arians brought her in on merit, not to fight some greater cause.

“When we see those problems [of sportsmen committing violence against women], what we can do is create change and that is what you hope,” she said. “When those people do it we have the opportunity to say: ‘That is not OK,’ and we have the opportunity to change it.”

Welter might be the first woman coach in the NFL, but she is not the lone female making headway in US sports, though their numbers remain miniscule.

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon made worldwide headlines when she guided the NBA team to a summer league championship in Las Vegas. Speaking on the eve of Mayweather’s supposed swan song in the same city, Welter rejected the notion that she was a one-off in the NFL.

“No way, no way,” said Welter, who holds at doctorate in psychology. “[What I did] gives girls and women who love football a place for the very first time. It gives them a vision. They see that they can grow up and be in the NFL. It is a dream that has never been there before.”

“There are lots of girls growing up with football and they now have opportunities to see it in a different way,” she added.

Welter, a Florida native who has been involved in women’s American football for 15 years, is ambitious that her Cardinals experience is just a first foray into the NFL — not only for her, but for other women too.

“I have a lot of things left to do. I hope to get my next job with an NFL team, but it is step by step,” she said.

“Any time you change the expectation of what is possible, of course there are going to be a lot of questions and I am honored to be the one to answer those questions and be able to say: ‘Yes, it was a first and now there can be a next,’” she said.

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