She’s Got Balls: Why Kathryn Smith Will Succeed in the NFL

First day CNU  By: Sam Dillistin

No matter how many times I rewatch the kick, I am always met with feelings of nervousness and anxiousness, maybe things will end differently this time, I tell myself. There are eight seconds remaining in Super Bowl XXV and Scott Norwood has the opportunity to send the Bills home as Champions. He lines up for the kick, and in one swift motion, Norwood put every ounce of physical power he possessed into the football. The ball missed wide right, it never stood a chance.

Scott Norwood

The last time Buffalo made the playoffs was in 1999 when they fell victim to the Tennessee Titans in a game that would come to be known as the Music City Miracle. Professional football has hardly been relevant in Buffalo since that illegal forward pass to Kevin Dyson knocked the Bills out of the playoffs. I was six years old for the Music City Miracle, I wasn’t even alive for Wide Right, yet these two moments define the heartbreak it is to be a Bills fan.

After hiring the fiery and typically over-confident Rex Ryan as their head coach last year, the Bills began to make national headlines for the first time in a long time. A fan base that has dealt with supporting an almost irrelevant football team for the last 15 years finally has something to be excited about. Naturally, Ryan and the most talented Buffalo Bills team since 2000 finished the year with an 8-8 record. But the 2016 offseason has provided the Bills with a new spark of energy that most football fans were not expecting, the hiring of the first full-time NFL female coach, Kathryn Smith.

Kathryn Smith Rex Ryan

The response to Smith’s hire has been almost entirely positive in NFL circles, with several Bills players and well respected sports personalities chiming in:

Buffalo Bills starting left guard Richie Incognito congratulated Smith very soon after her hire:

Incognito tweet

CNN Sports Anchor Rachel Nichols praised the Buffalo organization for making the move:

Rachel nichols

Ray Ratto of CSN took a more comical approach to display his approval:

Ray ratto

Although the response has been overwhelmingly positive, there are a few detractors who believe there is no place in the NFL for female coaches. Most prominently, Kevin Kiley, a former radio host of 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland who shamed the Bills organization for hiring Kathryn Smith. After being heavily criticized for his comments, Kiley resigned from the network, claiming that he and leadership did not see eye to eye on the topic of censorship. Kiley called the Smith hire “absurd” and claimed that the Bills are “putting her in a position to fail,” as she cannot perform her job as well as a male counterpart could. Those two quotes weren’t all, Kiley spoke for a grand total of 13 minutes on the subject and and made quite a few disparaging remarks.

Within his rant, Kevin Kiley defined two key components that make up the theory of hegemonic masculinity. Communication scholar Nick Trujillo defined hegemonic masculinity

as “the culturally idealized form of masculine character” which emphasizes “toughness and competitiveness” as well as “the subordination of women.”

Two prominent features of hegemonic masculinity that can be seen in the Kevin Kiley quotes are: physical force and control, as well as occupational achievement.

Kiley on masculinity:

“When you stand next to a woman are you bigger and stronger? Do you have the ability to impose your will physically on most people? Women don’t have that.”

Physical force and control expresses the idea that men are the holders of power, therefore they are superior to women. The NFL has held onto this idea for quite some time, as the only women in the league are typically the wives of players or executives.

Secondly, this speaks to occupational achievement, which involves the division of labor between men and women, meaning some jobs are inherently masculine while others are feminine. Essentially, women can only perform jobs designed for women and vice versa for men. While Kiley does not directly state that Kathryn Smith cannot succeed in the NFL, he does claim that women cannot physically impose their will upon others; therefore, Smith will not be able to control men in the NFL and will eventually fail.

NFL qualifications:

“She couldn’t possibly be qualified to the same level that a man could be qualified to do that.”

Kiley did not mince words in this remark, he got straight to the point and said what he believed which wasn’t the smartest move. If Kiley had taken the time to research Kathryn Smith’s background in football, he would have noticed that she has been working in the NFL for 13 of her 30 years of life.

Originally a gameday/special events intern with the New York Jets in 2003, Smith climbed the NFL ladder with the organization and eventually became an assistant to the head coach (Rex Ryan) in 2014, Ryan’s last year with the team. Even prior to entering the NFL, Smith kept track of statistics for the Christian Brothers Academy football team for her father. I don’t believe Kathryn Smith’s football acumen should be in question at this point in time, she’s worked in the NFL for nearly half of her life.


“This is the old conversation we had about having a woman vote for the Hall of Fame in football. It’s absurd. I mean do you really want your determination, whether you make the Hall of Fame in football, do you want a woman to have a vote on that, who’s never played the game and doesn’t understand the intensity of the game?”

Smith was a three sport athlete at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, competing in: swimming, lacrosse, and bowling. But she can’t understand the intensity of football, she has never competed in athletics, she’s a fish out of water when it comes to football knowledge. If Kiley believes it is fair to judge Kathryn Smith based on the fact that she hasn’t played football before, fine, but I guess that means Bill Belichick should hand his Lombardi trophies back. Belichick never played a down of professional football, along with former head coaching icon Bill Walsh, and the man whom the Super Bowl trophy is named after, Vince Lombardi.

Instead of immediately deeming Kathryn Smith a failure, let’s see if she has what it takes. She has worked in the NFL for 13 years and has paid her dues as an intern, part-time scout, and head coach assistant. Beginning a full-time career as a quality control coach will allow Smith to expand her football knowledge and delve deeper into the time-consuming life of being an NFL coach.

In a league that is consistently attacked for its player safety issues, player off-field conduct, and a question in leadership at the top, Kathryn Smith demonstrates a step in the right direction, and something that everyone should be able to root for this season.

As a Bills fan, that is all I can ask for.

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