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Four Women Who Broke Through Sports’s Glass Ceiling in 2020

In 2020 Sarah Fuller, Katie Sowers, Becky Hammon, and Kim Ng broke long-standing gender barriers in college football, the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball….

Sowers attended Hesston College and then the Mennonite-affiliated Goshen College in Indiana, where she was a multisport athlete. After graduating in 2009, she asked about taking a position as a volunteer assistant coach on the Goshen women’s basketball team. She said she was turned down based on her sexual orientation.

Spurned, she turned instead to Women’s Football Alliance, where she played with her twin sister, Liz. Sowers played eight years in the WFA, first for the West Michigan Mayhem and then for the Kansas City Titans. She also coached girls basketball in Kansas City, where one of her players was a daughter of the noted football executive Scott Pioli. Later, when Pioli became the assistant general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, he helped Sowers get a Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, part of which involved working with the Falcons during the off-season. There she met Kyle Shanahan, who later went on to coach the 49ers, where he recruited Sowers to join his staff in 2017. In 2019 she became the first full-time female coach in NFL history. 

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In 2017, in an interview with Outsports, Sowers came out as the NFL’s first openly LGBTQ+ coach, male or female. “No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are,” Sowers told the site. “There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, who do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation.”

Though the 49ers lost the Super Bowl to the Chiefs (and will miss the playoffs this year), players have publicly expressed their belief in Sowers and the future of her coaching career, with defensive tackle DJ Jones telling ABC News, “She’s empowering to all women. I’m proud of her. She’s a superstar.”

In an interview with Hesston College in 2016, when she was with the Falcons, Sowers talked about her career goals. “My long-term goal is to be a head coach and then move on to executive management,” Sowers said. “It’s not a typical path, but then again, nothing about what I’m doing is typical.”

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Kim Ng, the new general manager for the Miami Marlins. AP Photo

Kim Ng

When Ng was hired by team co-owner Derek Jeter in November to be the new general manager of the Miami Marlins, she not only became the first female general manager of a major North American men’s professional sports team, but also Major League Baseball’s first Asian American general manager.