I've been Twitter friends with Jen Welter, who just made NFL history, for over a year. This past March, I wrote I would not be shocked if she were an assistant coach in the NFL one day. I just didn't think it would be this soon, but here we are at this great moment in time.
The Arizona Cardinals were once a laughingstock on the field, but off it, there was always a progressive bent. The Cardinals in 1978 hired Adele Harris, who was the first black woman to be an executive in the NFL (she was the director of community relations). Three years later, owner Bill Bidwill hired Bob Wallace, the first black person to handle contract talks for an NFL team. Rod Graves and Dennis Green, in 2004, were the first black general manager/head coach tandem in the sport.
Michael Bidwell continued what his father started, being a spark for change, but the coach, Bruce Arians, has been the centrifuge. Arians, in fact, hired Welter as an assistant coach, the announcement coming Monday night, with her believed to be the first woman to hold such a position in the history of the league.
There are three things with this groundbreaking and remarkable move by the Cardinals. First, it's not a shock Arians did this. His staff is an interesting mix of ages and personalities. He is a thinker and tinkerer, the western version of Chip Kelly, except maybe even smarter.
Arians may look gruff, but he is a typical example of "looks can be deceiving." Underneath that exterior is a junior Bill Belichick with highly progressive DNA.
"Coaching is nothing more than teaching," Arians told the team's website. "One thing I have learned from players is, 'How are you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don't care if you're the Green Hornet, man, I'll listen.' I really believe she'll have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors."
My guess is Welter will impress because that is what she's done throughout her football career. Just as I predicted she'd be an assistant coach, I think one day she will rise to be a coordinator in the NFL. Then, yes, a head coach. There, I said it.
She is that impressive.
Second, few players will care that Welter is a woman. Oh, sure, there will be some troglodytes. There always are, everywhere. But players on the Cardinals simply won't care. I got a taste of that when I asked one veteran AFC player about the move.
"I don't care if she has breasts or a penis," the player said. "Just as long as she can coach. That's all that matters."
"Players will be very respectful," said an NFC player.
Arians said he polled some veteran players and no one had an issue.
Again, you may see an ignorant player tweet, or hear one player say, something incredibly dumb. But what we've seen in sports is that locker rooms, once bastions of sexism, are moving quickly from a less imbecilic environment to a far more open one. Women routinely cover the sport now when once heroes like Lesley Visser weren't allowed, or warriors like Andrea Kremer had to fight stereotypes and discrimination so others could be treated the same as male writers.
In many ways, great women like Visser, Kremer and Amy Trask—who was the first female team executive in NFL history—paved the way for Welter. They did the same with Sarah Thomas, who recently became the NFL's first female official.
"It does not surprise me that the team led by Michael Bidwill and coached by Bruce Arians is the first to do this," Trask wrote to me in an email. "I expect that players will evaluate Jen Welter on the merits and interact with her without regard to gender. Certainly, that was my experience with players."
"The truth is, (Welter) has more playing experience than some of the coaches who coach me now," said the AFC player.
Which brings me to Welter. The impression I got in reading about her and watching her talk about football, as well as my occasional Twitter chats with her, was that she loved football. She wasn't a woman who loved football. She was a human being who loved football. That was it. That was all.
She played running back and special teams in the Indoor Football League. The Cardinals said she is the first female non-kicker in a professional football league. This year, she coached linebackers and special teams.
Welter has a master's degree in sports psychology and a doctorate in psychology. She also played rugby at Boston College. She is more of a total football package than most men in the sport her age.
This isn't a stunt. It's not a gimmick. This also isn't a fad.
This is something different. It's called progress.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.