“She shouldn’t be there.” The Glass Sidleline
She shouldn’t be there.
Because on this July morning at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York, it’s all about Buffalo Bills football. Week 1 of their 2018 training camp. The sun is shining, the Polisenni Track and Field grandstands are packed, and the gridiron is teeming with NFL players, hopefuls, coaches, and assistants. And since this is the NFL, all those players and hopefuls and coaches and assistants on the field are men. All but one.
At the 30-yard line stands Phoebe Schecter. She’s a two-time recipient of a Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship, a league-wide program established in 1987 that provides NFL coaching experience for minority and, more recently, female coaches. For the second straight year, the 29-year-old Connecticut native has a three-week summer coaching internship with the Bills. It’s a gig that will hopefully one day lead to her dream job: Coaching full time. “I want football to be a part of my life 24/7,” she says.
Schecter’s doing her best to fit in amongst that sea of men. She definitely dresses the part of a Bills coach. She’s got the gray, long sleeve Bills shirt, the black gym shorts, the sneakers, and the Oakley shades. She acts the part as well. As the tight ends run through 10-yard out routes, Schecter observes and absorbs every second of every play, all the while grabbing loose footballs, double-checking the practice script, and standing shoulder to shoulder with tight end coach Rob Boras and assistant Marc Lubick.
As for looking the part, that’s where it becomes a tough sell. There’s the 5’4 frame and the long blonde hair. Compared to all these other Bills coaches with their shaved heads and beards and goatees and scowls, guys who look like they’ve been barking orders since they stepped out of the womb, Schecter doesn’t exactly blend in. In fact, a woman — any woman — on the football field makes many people downright uncomfortable. People including iconic New York sports talk radio host Mike Francesa, who said he considers the thought of women coaching men in the pros to be ludicrous.
“Not everybody is attuned or designed to do every single job,” said Francesa in 2017. “And as we move forward there’s no saying that everybody has to be able to do every single job. Some are better for some people, that’s all. That’s not being chauvinistic. That’s not being stone-aged. That’s just being reasonable. I’m just looking at this with some modicum of common sense.”
But this is the 21st century. Women like Safra Catz, Mary Barra, and Marillyn Hewson are running Fortune 500 companies. Twenty percent of Congress is female. As of 2013, there were 69 women serving as a general or an admiral in the United States Armed Forces, 39 women have served as U.S. governors, and this past August the Marine Corps named its first female platoon commander. Not to mention that little 2016 election in which Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for president.
While it’s true that women have been making significant strides in many industries, astoundingly little progress has been made in the realm of coaching men’s sports.
“Diversity is valued in the marketplace,” says Nicole LaVoi, Co-Director at The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. “Yet sports are behind the times.” That’s a polite way of saying men’s pro sports appear to be, despite Francesa’s denial, stuck in the Stone Age. Of the roughly 2,600 coaches employed by the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, and MLB (this includes minor league affiliates), the number of women coaching isn’t a Congress-like 20 percent. It’s not even one percent. Of that 2,600, the total number of female coaches is six.
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