Despite the pandemic, this year’s Super Bowl will look largely the same as the 54 that have come before it. There will be snacks. There will be Super Bowl commercials. There will be Tom Brady. But it will also have something infinitely more historic: a record number of women on the field.
The NFL—and men’s major league sports in general—have a serious woman problem when it comes to leadership positions. Despite the number of qualified women in sports, you can count the number of female coaches, commissioners, and franchise owners in men’s big league sports using your hands. But that’s changing—in the past year, Katie Sowers became the first woman to ever coach in the Super Bowl; Jeanie Buss became the first female team owner to bring home an NBA Championship and Becky Hammon became the first woman to ever serve as head coach in an NBA game; Kim Ng became the first woman ever named general manager of an MLB team and Bianca Smith became the first Black woman to coach minor league team; and in the NHL, Dawn Braid became the first woman to get a full-time coaching gig.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs face off on Sunday, February 7—after Amanda Gorman, the inimitable youth poet laureate from the inauguration (and former Glamour College woman of the year) reads a poem as part of the pre-show—a record three women will be on the sidelines in the biggest game in football: Lori Locust, assistant defensive line coach for the Buccaneers, Maral Javadifar, assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Buccaneers, and NFL official Sarah Thomas.
Locust—Coach Lo—was obsessed with football ever since she was a little kid, but with no girls teams, she never got a chance to play until she was 40 when a women’s exhibition team came to her area. “I got hurt playing in the women’s league and I couldn’t stand to be away from the games, so I was asked to help coach. That turned a page for me,” Locust says. She paid her dues for years, starting with a high school coaching job and working her way up to semi-pro men’s teams, and arena football. Finally, she got an internship with the Baltimore Ravens—which would mean taking six weeks away from her full-time day job and from her two sons. “As a 56-year-old woman, I was doing things that guys in their twenties had to do to break into coaching,” she says. Two weeks before she was scheduled to start, she was fired. “When I came back, I had no job. I had no benefits. It was a very scary time,” she says. “But you know, you act on faith, you call your contacts, you stay in touch with people who have a hand in hearing when there’s opportunity.” A few months later, the call from Tampa Bay came.