49ers' Katie Sowers becomes NFL's first openly gay coach, second woman to hold full-time post

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers officially hired Katie Sowers for the 2017 season last week, making her the team's first female assistant coach. She's also the second full-time female assistant coach in NFL history.

Sowers joins Buffalo Bills quality control coach Kathryn Smith, who last year became the league's first female full-time assistant.

Image Courtesy of Stephanie Campbell

Katie Sowers, 31, is the NFL's first openly gay coach.

On Tuesday, Sowers, 31, made more history, becoming the NFL's first openly gay coach. In an interview with Outsports.com, Sowers discussed her sexual orientation for the first time on the record.

"No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are," Sowers told Outsports. "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."

She joined the Niners as part of their Bill Walsh NFL Coaching Diversity Fellowship in the spring. She had worked previously with coach Kyle Shanahan in 2016, when he was offensive coordinator in Atlanta.

Sowers will serve as an offensive assistant. She spent the past few months working with the 49ers' wide receivers, but she also assisted in other areas. Shanahan said last week that he had offered Sowers the opportunity to stay with the team for the rest of the season.

"We plan on her assisting with the receivers," he said. "Katie did a real good job for us in Atlanta, she's done a really good job here. She helps [receivers coach] Mike LaFleur out, just with some rotations and she helps our quality control [coaches] out just with all the stuff they have to do. She's a hard worker, you don't even notice her because she just goes to work and does what's asked. Because of that, she's someone we'd like to keep around. We're still figuring out exact titles and stuff and what that aspect is, but she's done a good job for us two years in a row in camp and we'd like to have her help out throughout the year."

Before working with the Falcons, Sowers played pro football for the Women's Football Alliance at multiple positions and was chosen for the national team that competed in the Women's World Championship. She was also the general manager of the Kansas City Titans of the Women's Football Alliance and worked as an adviser to USA Football.

Sowers told Outsports that she came out to her family while at Goshen (Indiana) College. She also said she was turned down for a volunteer basketball coaching job because she's a lesbian.

"That moment really impacted me because it was the first time I truly felt judged because of my sexual orientation," Sowers told Outsports. "I was so passionate about coaching and to feel like my opportunities were limited because of who I loved was hard to deal with. However, without that experience, I would not be where I am today."

Sowers credited Atlanta assistant general manager Scott Pioli for helping her land her first NFL coaching job. She said Tuesday that her goal is to become a head coach in the NFL or college. Before last week's preseason game against the Denver Broncos, Sowers stopped and signed autographs for fans, who offered meaningful support.

"Signing autographs served as one of those moments when I realized the reality of the impact I was having on people," Sowers told Outsports. "I had multiple families call me over and thank me for the doors I am opening for their daughters.

"I even met a few young girls who were so excited to see me and tell me their own story of the sports they play. It was a special moment that I will remember for a long time."

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