By: Mic Edwards
As of January 20, 2016, The Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith to be the first female, full time assistant coach in the NFL (Martin). There has been a substantial amount of controversy covering this topic. Some critics believe that this a great idea, Rex Ryan, the head coach for the Bills’, is obviously one of them. I for one believe Rex Ryan is crazy and has no idea what he is about to get himself into.
Matthew Fairburn, a writer that covers the Buffalo Bills, wrote an article covering how other players and fans feel about the new hire. Multiple team members from the Bills such as Richie Incognito, MarQuise Gray, Marquise Goodwin, and other members of the affiliation, are completely supporting the hire of Kathryn Smith (Fairburn). They all publicly tweeted congratulations to Kathryn Smith and are excited to work with her. Even Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, NY publicly tweeted, “Congratulations to Kathryn Smith and the Buffalo Bills on making NFL history.” However, a couple fans, and other football fanatics, begged to differ in the comments section: “It is kind of ridiculous to hire a woman who has never played tackle football when there are hundreds of men who are more deserving. Another reason why Rex Ryan is an idiot.” Another Bills’ fan stated, “The Bills’ have been playing like a bunch of girls for years why not give them a female coach”. Fairburn suggests that the hire has already become national news and will continue to get all kinds of different reactions from players, fans, and the general public (Fairburn). I believe that although some support is apparent, there are more people at home who choose not to publicly address how this hire is bad news, because they don’t want to be called an anti-feminist. I think their feelings will change, and they will be eager to share their true feelings as soon as the Bills start losing in the 2016 season. There are plenty of theories that will validate why Kathryn Smith will not succeed as an assistant coach in the NFL, but the theory of hegemonic masculinity by Nick Trujilloc, is nearly perfect.
Nick Trujillo examined the theory of Hegemonic Masculinity in American sports culture. He defines hegemonic masculinity as, “The culturally idealized form of a masculine character. This emphasizes the connecting of masculinity to toughness and competitiveness”(Trujillo). He argued that a form of masculinity becomes hegemonic when “it is widely accepted in a culture and when the acceptance reinforces the dominant gender ideology of the culture”(Trujillo). Trujillo states that there are multiple types of hegemonic masculinity. The type that I will incorporate into why Kathryn Smith will not succeed is patriarchy. Trujillo defines patriarchy as, “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general”(Trujillo). This theory allows me to claim that the Bills’ hire of a female coach coming into a male dominated league was a mistake, and will not work.
The NFL has been represented by this theory of hegemonic masculinity through patriarchy, since the beginning of the league in 1920. Some of the most intense, feared, and talented men have been direct products of the league, and dominated our society over time. I’m not just talking about the players either. The NFL is filled with coaches that directly reflect this theory. Think about how intense it would be to play for Bear Bryant, Mike Ditka, Ron Rivera, or even Mike Tomlin, just to name a few, and for Rex Ryan to hire Kathryn Smith as the first female coach of the NFL completely just spits on the patriarchal system the NFL has sustained. How in the world is he going to bring on a female coach into the NFL’s patriarchal system that has been completely dominated by men for over 80 years? This makes me wonder what the NFL is coming to, and it definitely arises a few issues and concerns.
The first concern I would like to address is the discomfort the players will receive. Being a former college football player, I know from first hand experience that a locker room is a sacred place, and the general motto of a locker room is “What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room.” Guys are nuts in there! They don’t care about anything, they love to mess around, wrestle, and do some pretty wild things, (most of the time, naked) and to bring a female coach into that mayhem? It just doesn’t make sense to me. She is probably definitely going to see things that she does not want to see, and this will make the players and Smith very uncomfortable.
The next concern I would like to address is the potential sexual abuse problems that Smith will receive. I personally don’t think that this job will be safe for her. According to Broadly Staff, a reporting company associated with VICE, there have been 44 NFL players who have been accused of sexual or physical assault. With facts like these, it blows my mind to think that Kathryn Smith will be right there in the middle of it. I’m not saying that all NFL players are bad, but think about it, a female coach is going to be in the locker room, on the field, in the coach’s office, surrounded by 100+ guys. Any person with the right mind is going to know that this is not going to be safe. Where is she going to change? Shower? Will they have to make a specific section just for her? How often will she be allowed in the locker room with 70 some NFL athletes (who, 90% of the time, will be naked)? Will any athlete try to sexually assault her if she is in the locker room with them, even if they are just playing around like they normally do? I hate this situation, and I hope that nothing like this will happen to Smith, but with her being around the players and the coaches 24/7, you have to wonder.
The next issue I would like to address is respect. Kathryn Smith will not be respected. The NFL players will not respect a female coach. Again, we see the hegemonic masculinity theory of patriarchy here. None of the Bills’ will have had a female coach before. They are used to being coached by males. To them, the male coach is something they have had with them all of their lives, and for the first time in history, they will have to go against this male dominated role of a coach, and experience it for the first time with a female. Yes, I am sure Rex Ryan is going to give a speech about how they must respect Kathryn Smith, and just because she is a woman, does not mean you can treat her any different. However, once the heat of the moment comes, it’s not going to be pretty for Kathryn Smith. Take this for an example:
Its day 3 in summer camp, its 100+ degrees outside, athletes are sleep deprived from waking up at 4:45AM to get something in their stomachs before their first practice at 6AM. They are all confused from the new playbooks they have to study day in and day out. They are dehydrated. They know every single day they are going to have to battle for a depth chart spot, or even just a spot on the team against top-notch talent. Practice begins, They throw their bodies around play after play just to impress the coaches or even earn a since of pride from their fellow teammates. They are profusely sweating, hitting, fighting, yelling at each other, emotion is at an all time high. They must sprint from drill to drill, getting screamed at by other coaches the whole time. Athletes begin to do anything they can to take their minds to their “happy place” and begin counting the days until summer camp ends. Then Ms. Kathryn Smith decides to jump in and yell at one of the players in the heat of the moment….
Yeah, it’s not going to be pretty. I can see it now, somebody is going to say, in a MUCH more derogatory way, “ I am not going to listen to no female coach, you have no idea what we are going through, because you have never done it yourself, so pack your bags because you don’t belong here.” Again, I can promise you that is ABSOLUTELY 100% the most edited version of what a player is going to say to her. Is it wrong to talk to a woman like that? I think so. Does the player have a point? I think so. Cleveland sports radio show host, Kevin Kiley can validate my claim. He very sarcastically stated, “If I’m running 100 mph down the field on a kickoff I would LOVE to hear from Kathryn, that’s EXACTLY what I would want to hear. No, there is no place for a woman in professional sports or coaching men! Men will not take to it! If you have ten men on special teams, eight of them will be mumbling under their breath! It’s counter productive. The Bills’ are setting her up to fail”. There are many others who believe that Smith will not succeed as an assistant coach. Kiley was just one of the first who publicly addressed the issue.
The NFL is set up through a highly patriarchal system, which simply will not allow her to be successful. There are only a handful of women associated with the NFL . Kelli Masters, Dawn Aponte, Kristen Kuliga, Amy Trask, Katie Blackburn, Linda Bogdan, Rita LeBlanc, and a few others. These are the only women who have some form of association with the NFL, besides some front office workers, Vice Presidents, and for the Denver Broncos case Pat Bowlen’s wife delivering the Super Bowl 50 trophy. The rest of the people associated with the NFL are male. This reiterates why the players will not take a female assistant coach seriously. The NFL is flooded with males, and the players simply will not be used to dealing with a female. They are used to a highly patriarchal system that they have experienced all their lives. They are going to have to see Kathryn Smith in a man’s clothing, trying to talk in a manly voice, doing a man’s job. It’s just going to seem like a joke to the players. I know this sounds like I am completely anti-feminist, but this is just the reality.
I would love to know what athletes like “Mean” Joe Greene, Walter Payton, Jack Lambert, Warren Sap, Jack Youngblood, or any of the all time greats would have to say about the Bills’ new hire. Currently none of them have spoken out about this issue, probably due to the scrutiny they would receive from all kinds of people. However, when the all time greats do address this idea, I’m almost 100% sure that they will think the hire is nothing but bad news.
Rex Ryan’s hire of Kathryn Smith completely rejects the idea of hegemonic masculinity. This theory has been widely accepted in the NFL for a long time now. It is already producing outrage from fans, former players, and even some current players. I guess the only thing that will make us all doubt these claims, is if Rex Ryan and staff are able to miraculously pull out a winning Super Bowl 51 team.
I personally do not think this a good idea. This hire raises so many concerns, and even potential liabilities directed toward Kathryn Smith’s safety. If she does not produce what the other players and coaches are expecting of her, the target on her back will be even greater, solely because she is female. Again, this is just the reality and nature of the patriarchal system of the NFL. I truly don’t believe that Kathryn Smith has the mentality in her, that a coach absolutely needs to posses leading to my overall claim of The Bills’ hire of Kathryn Smith was a mistake.
“The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do, in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” –Tom Landry
Fairburn, M. (2016, January 21). What players, others are saying about Bills’ Kathryn
Smith becoming NFL’s first female coach. Retrieved February 01, 2016, from
Martin, K. (2016, January 23). How Kathryn Smith broke NFL’s glass ceiling. Retrieved
February 01, 2016, from http://www.newsday.com/sports/football/how-kathryn-
Trujillo, N. (1991). Hegemonic masculinity on the mound: Media representations of
Nolan Ryan and American sports culture. Critical Studies in Mass
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