Washington Football Team's Jennifer King proud to make history as NFL's first Black female assistant

When Jennifer King got the news late in the season that she would make history by becoming the NFL's first Black female assistant coach for Washington next season, she responded by doing what came natural. She went back to work.

Though coach Ron Rivera told her of the pending move before the team's 2020 season had ended, King was officially announced Tuesday as Washington's assistant running backs coach for next season.

But although she viewed this as the logical next step, having coached parts of three seasons as an intern, she understands the significance.

"Representation means so much," King said. "It's really important right now to be a good representative, what I didn't have growing up. I didn't have anyone that looked anything like me working. To be able to see that, I think, is big. It's super cool to be a part of this."

However, King said she doesn't feel like a trailblazer. At least not yet.

"I really think this is something that 10 to 15 years down the road you can look back on and I will feel the magnitude of it," King said. "I've been working with the guys already, so it doesn't feel a lot different for me."

The moment has resulted in sporting dignitaries reaching out to King, including a recorded video from tennis great Billie Jean King to offer her congratulations.

"There have been some cool stories of just kids seeing it and little girls wanting to get into football and things like that," Jennifer King said. "Those are really cool."

King already made history twice this season. Washington's playoff loss to Tampa Bay featured the first postseason game in which both teams had female assistants; the Buccaneers had assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar. Earlier in the season, King was part of the NFL's first game that featured female assistants for both teams -- Callie Brownson was Cleveland's chief of staff -- plus female referee Sarah Thomas.

"It's so important to open the entire pool of applicants when you have a position," King said. "So far historically in football, it's only 50% of the people; no women were considered. For future female coaches coming up, this gives them a foot in the door. It's up to us to do a good job."

King served as a full-year coaching intern last season, helping with Washington's running backs. She also worked as an intern for two years under Rivera when he was in Carolina, in 2018 and '19. King also was an assistant receivers coach for the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football.

Rivera has spoken at the women's coaching forum at the NFL's scouting combine multiple times. That's how King first came to his attention.

"It's so important to have those people reach back," King said. "They're realizing that there are females capable of working in football at a high level, and they're giving them opportunities. It's that simple. It's crazy. They're just realizing that: 'There are people out there that can help us, and they may not look like everybody else, but I want to give them an opportunity.' I'm thankful for that, but super thankful for them having an open mind."

Rivera said King has earned her opportunity.

"Every time I've increased her responsibilities, she stepped up to the plate and has done a great job," Rivera said. "With this move, we'll see an even more competitive, more outgoing Jennifer King. It's a heck of an opportunity for her to show what she's capable of."

King said she didn't dream of pursuing this path growing up or while coaching in college. Then, in 2016, she noticed Katie Sowers was a training camp assistant in Atlanta.

King finally got an opening with the Panthers. She said she initially thought she'd be there for two days during a minicamp, but she stayed for four months. Then she was invited back the next year. That's when King knew there was a chance.

"The hardest part about getting in the building was done; now it's up to me," said King, who was an offensive assistant at Dartmouth College in 2019 before joining Washington last offseason.

She was a regular participant in the NFL's coaching clinics from 2015 to 2018, when she also attended the NFL Women's Career in Football Forum. She also played for three professional women's football teams from 2006 to 2019: the Carolina Phoenix, with whom she spent 11 years, the New York Sharks and the D.C. Divas.

King also served as the head coach of Johnson & Wales University Charlotte women's basketball team from 2016 to 2018, guiding it to a USCAA Division II National Championship. She was an assistant on the Greensboro College women's team from 2006 to 2016.

In the past year, Washington has hired a minority head coach (Rivera), the NFL's first Black team president (Jason Wright) and the first female person to be part of an NFL team's radio crew (Julie Donaldson).

"There are people of all races and genders that can do really good things at all levels of football," King said. "That's what we did -- went out and found people that work at different positions and work for our organization."