Representation matters. Representation gives people hope. Representation helps shape young minds. It shows that anything is possible. Jennifer King embodies “representation matters.” The first black woman to ever score a full-time coaching gig on an NFL sideline.
The Washington Football Team assistant running backs coach’s career didn’t start with coaching football. Jennifer King was an assistant collegiate women’s basketball coach for Greensboro College for 10 years. Two of those years, her team finished as the conference champion. In fact, four times in her collegiate basketball coaching career, her team made it to the NCAA tournament. Another two years, King was the head coach at Johnson & Wales in North Carolina. There, she turned around a program that had only been in existence for two years. In the first year as their head coach, King helped them secure a conference championship.
The turning point
In 2018, King connected with Ron Rivera at the NFL Women’s Careers in Football Forum when he was still a coach for the Carolina Panthers. King was one of 40 women to attend the summit that year. She immediately expressed an interest in working in the NFL. Rivera offered her an intern position for the Carolina Panthers in 2018, where she aided in coaching the wide receivers.
In 2019, King received a full-time job offer from the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) as an assistant wide receiver and special teams coach. When the AAF folded in 2019, King was reacquired as a wide receivers coach intern for the Panthers. She was also named an offensive assistant for Dartmouth College. At the beginning of the 2020 season, Rivera again brought her back as an intern, this time for the Washington Football Team. At the end of their 2020 campaign, King was offered a full-time job as the assistant running backs coach, making her the first black female coach in NFL history.
A quote from King in a Sports Illustrated article written by Diandra Loux reads as follows: “The main thing I want everyone to know is that I didn’t just pop up. This is something that has been years in the making.” Women in these positions often face the narrative that they only received the job because a company or franchise needed to “diversify.” What I want to be taken from this series is that these women, and many more, received their positions through hard work. Often by working harder than their male counterparts have to.
Much like Sarah Thomas, who I covered in my first article, when you read what King’s players and colleagues think of her – it’s all positive. She pushes her players, expects their best and hardest work, and they respect her. It’s easy to forget this when you see the general public scum commenting on women in men’s sports.
Another woman breaking through a tough glass ceiling. A black woman making history, yet again. A whole new sector of little girls and grown women have someone to look up to—representation matters.