Jennifer King, Washington Commanders

Jennifer King Talks To Cornell Students About Breaking Barriers As A Woman NFL Coach

Jennifer King says she's thriving as an NFL coach by being herself everyday.

Jennifer King, the trailblazing coach who became the first Black woman to coach full-time in the NFL, reflected on her groundbreaking journey in sports during Cornell University’s “Breaking Barriers: The First Black Woman to Coach in the NFL” event on May 3.

Throughout the conversation sponsored by Black Student Empowerment, which King previously prepared to discuss diverse topics, she delved into the importance of diversity and representation and the growing opportunities for women in athletics. Cornell’s Student and Campus Life stated that the coach acknowledged the “tremendous growth that women” have witnessed in the NFL, recounting her attendance at the 2018 NFL Women’s Forum, where she met over 40 women holding outside jobs, in stark contrast to the number already working in football at this year’s forum.

“That’s something that the other women coaches in the league, and I take very seriously…just to be great [role] models and be the representation that we didn’t have, for the people coming behind us,” the former Guilford College athlete said.

King’s journey spanned 13 years playing in the semi-pro, full-contact Women’s Football Alliance league. She embarked on her coaching career in college basketball, often juggling additional jobs to supplement her income. King’s relentless pursuit led her to Johnson & Wales University, Charlotte, where she guided the team to a remarkable 22-4 record and its first United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division II championship in 2018.

The coach resigned from coaching basketball to chase her dream of working in football. “Don’t be afraid to make that leap into the unknown,” she advised attendees.

King, who is a staunch advocate for expanding opportunities for women in sports, stands as one of only 12 women holding full-time coaching positions in the NFL. Her breakthrough came as an assistant coach at Dartmouth College and with the now-defunct Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football. She coached as an intern for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers prior to her transition to the Washington Commanders with coach Ron Rivera. She made history after she was promoted to assistant running backs coach in Washington. King made history again in a recent assistant coaching position with the Chicago Bears. She became the franchise’s inaugural female coach in its 104-year history.

“I think we’re entering a new era in sport, where for a lot of these guys now in control, it’s not new for them to have women in these positions anymore,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do, but I haven’t experienced a lot of the [negative] things you probably think I would have because people are so much better, and we’re moving into a new generation.”

She has dedicated her platform to closing the gap in sports and building community programs for kids through her involvement with the NFL’s Women’s Forum, Women’s Sports Foundation, and her own King Group organization.