It’s not even draft season, but after last week, the Buffalo Bills fans should feel awakened and elated. Last Wednesday, the organization announced that they are hiring or rather promoting Kathryn Smith, former administrative assistant to the head coach, to become the first woman to serve as a full-time assistant coach in the NFL.
Smith, a native of Dewitt, New York, and a three-sport athlete at Christian Brothers Academy, a private Catholic high school, began her football career by keeping track of the statistics of her brother’s football games. This interest in football continued when Smith pursued a degree in sports management at St. John’s University in Queens, and there was a student manager for the men’s basketball team while simultaneously interning for the New York Jets.
After graduation, the Jets hired Smith to continue her work as a player personnel assistant. Her assignments consisted of facilitating communication between the college scouting director and the scouts below him, and recording data that the scouts produced. Additionally, she managed visits of free agent college players and veterans. In 2014, the former St. John’s Graduate was promoted further to serve as the assistant to (at the time) head coach Rex Ryan. Following Ryan’s firing, he took Smith with him to Buffalo, where she served as an administrative assistant to the head coach.
In her new role, Smith will serve as a special teams quality control coach (QCC), a position that many football fans, including myself, had to fact-check. A quality control coach’s main objectives are to analyze data and film in order to anticipate the strengths and weaknesses of a team’s opponent. In other words, a QCC is someone who feeds the information to coordinators and the head coach, and is generally responsible for team scouting and preparation, which are both fields Smith has much experience in.
Although I was ecstatic when presented with the news, I was a bit dumbfounded and even surprised that it was Rex Ryan, out of all head coaches in the league, to be the one to officially aid in breaking the barrier. Ryan, known to be incredibly arrogant, outspoken, and even a little creepy, was the last person I would expect to be responsible for this feat. Coach Ryan may have a terrible attitude and lack class when put under high pressure situations, but one thing he isn’t is a misogynist. Ryan views Smith as an incredibly competent person, rather than judging her based upon something as two-dimensional as gender.
“[Smith] has proven that she’s ready for the next step, so I’m excited and proud for her with this opportunity,” Ryan said. But, he isn’t perfect. Ryan couldn’t seem to remember that Becky Hammon is “the young lady that is an assistant to Coach [Gregg] Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs.”
On the other hand, some sports communicators weren’t as supportive of Ryan, Smith, and their accomplishment. Cleveland radio show host Kevin Kiley made a comment that proved his ignorance and confirmed that he actually doesn’t know what a QCC is.
“Football is about physical advantage. [Women] are at a loss when it comes to the reference points of football,” Kiley proclaimed. “This is not discrimination against women. I don’t care if a woman is President. That’d be great. I don’t care if a woman runs a corporation, that’d be great. But don’t set people up to fail.”
Besides Kiley’s chauvinism and obliviousness, ESPN radio talk show host Ryen Russillo questioned the promotion and accused the Buffalo Bills of complying with a trend lifted by the media. This trend, of course, is the hiring of many women into professional leagues including Dr. Jen Welter, Hammon, and Nancy Lieberman.
After accusing the hiring to be the product of “a fad,” Sarah Spain, women’s sports personality and ESPNW radio talk show host, responded to the accusation. “You have to assume that she’s qualified. Why would I assume that she didn’t earn it? Someone believed in her and gave her a shot. This woman deserves this chance.”
History has to be questioned when it’s made. In discussing history, Smith alluded to the progress we’ve already achieved—for instance, Welter’s internship with the Arizona Cardinals—and believes that she “won’t be the only one for very long.”