Katie Sowers, the 49ers coach making history as the first lesbian to coach at the Super Bowl, will be the first woman and the first LGBTQ person to take on the job.
But before Sowers became famous as a football coach, she offered to coach the women’s basketball team at Goshen College, a private religious school in Indiana. Her offer was declined because she is gay.
Sowers, who is only the second woman to coach in the NFL and is the very first out LGBTQ coach in the NFL, is the assistant offensive coach to the San Francisco 49ers.
A senior guard for the school’s basketball team, Sowers attended the private liberal arts school affiliated with the Mennonite church on a sports scholarship. When her eligibility to play ran out, she said, she asked to stay on as a volunteer coach.
“My coach called me in and said they have a lot of parents that have been worried about their daughter being around someone who is gay,” said Sowers in an NBC Sports video. “That’s not something they would want around the team.”
She says he told her that “It’s nothing personal.”
“And I remember hugging him but being extremely upset,” she said. “It was something that I grieved about for a while, but I decided I had to move on.”
That’s exactly what she did. Since her favorite sport growing up was football, she decided it was time for a change.
“That experience (at Goshen) actually led me to football,” she said. “And led me to a second chance at the game that I originally loved the most.”
Sowers, 33, played in the Women’s Football Alliance for the West Michigan Mayhem and the Kansas City Titans, before retiring in 2016 due to a hip injury. Upon her retirement, she got an internship with the Atlanta Falcons before moving to the 49ers in 2017.
In 2017, she came out as a lesbian.
“No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are,” Sowers said at the time.
“There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation. The more we can create an environment that welcomes all types of people, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, the more we can help ease the pain and burden that many carry every day.”
Goshen College President Rebecca Stoltzfus issued an apology to Sowers after news of the discrimination surfaced. Stoltzfus made sure to point out that at the time, the way the school handled Sowers’s situation was considered okay. Now, she said, the school’s nondiscrimination policy would explicitly forbid it.
“Sadly, in 2009, our policies and the laws of Indiana allowed for hiring decisions to consider sexual orientation,” the statement read. “I am glad that Goshen College adopted a new non-discrimination policy in 2015, and I am thankful for the leaders before me who brought this change about, not the least of whom were our students and alumni.”
“We are very proud of all that… Sowers has achieved in her life and the ways that she leads on and off the football field with authenticity, grace and excellence,” Stoltzfus continued. “She has publicly shared her journey to coaching, including the barriers she faced related to her sexual orientation when seeking a volunteer coaching position at Goshen College.”
Indiana still does not have a state law that forbids discrimination against LGBTQ people.