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Encore: How Katie Sowers Became The 2nd Woman To Coach Full Time In The NFL

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Katie Sowers is making history again this week. She's already just the second woman to coach full time in the NFL. And this Sunday, she will be the first to coach in the Super Bowl. Our co-host Audie Cornish talked to Sowers last year after the San Francisco 49ers hired her as an offensive assistant. And while Sowers is an NFL pioneer, she says she got into the league like many other coaches. She knew a guy - in her case, Scott Pioli, former assistant general manager for the Atlanta Falcons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KATIE SOWERS: This is a world of its not necessarily what you know but who you know that really opens the doors for you. And I'm not saying that you don't have to know anything. But if you work on yourself and you get everything in line that you need, you continue to learn, build yourself, that other stuff follows when you network and you find those right people that are really willing to reach back and help you up.

AUDIE CORNISH: So that last part is probably the most important. And I ask because, you know, for instance, in the NFL, they have a diversity coaching fellowship, right? That was established back in the late '80s. But you haven't seen a pipeline of women marching into the league in coaching positions.

SOWERS: Right.

CORNISH: So where do you think it falls apart? Is it the idea that, well, we can't have a woman because she won't have pro experience or we can't have a woman because she won't have coached enough or we can't - like, what follows that we can't have a woman because?

SOWERS: It's an assumption that we can't have a woman because she's not as knowledgeable. She doesn't know the game. She doesn't have the experience. And that's my own opinion because no one's ever told me a woman can't. It's just what I observe. I think we live in a society where it's often assumed that men know things until they prove they don't. And it's assumed women don't know things until they prove they do, and that hinders a lot of opportunities.

CORNISH: What has been your experience in terms of encountering sexism? Like, when you have maybe interviewed for other kinds of coaching jobs, what have you been told?

SOWERS: I actually - I won't mention what team it was, but I did interview with a team prior to coming to San Francisco. And the interview went extremely well. And I sat down with one of the coaches, and he said that they were actually shocked by how much they really liked me. But at that moment - that they weren't ready to have a female on staff, and I absolutely respected their honesty. But...

CORNISH: Did they say why they weren't ready?

SOWERS: They felt like they knew that I had a background with Kyle.

CORNISH: Kyle Shanahan - he's head coach of the 49ers.

SOWERS: Right. And they felt like it was going to be a better situation for me to not pass up that opportunity to come with Kyle because, you know, it's kind of like a been-there-done-that thing. They know how it goes, which - what teams will start to find is it's really not different to have a woman on staff. It's just like everybody else, but it's new.

And, you know, it was interesting 'cause I told that to Coach Turner, who's our running backs' coach. And we had some really interesting conversations just about some of the similarities that he faced, you know, as an African American male trying to get into the coaching world about 40 years ago or 47 years ago or something like that. So it was really a unique conversation, and I appreciated going through that experience. And - but I know it's something that, hopefully, down the road, other women won't have to encounter.

CHANG: That was San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers talking to Audie Cornish.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHO SONG, "EMINENCE FRONT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.