2015 has been a groundbreaking year for women in professional sports. Becky Hammon, the first woman to coach in the NBA, is entering her second year as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, and Sarah Thomas has become the first female official in the NFL.
Head Football Athletic Trainer Ariko Iso has seen men’s athletics change drastically in the last 15 years. Many would say she started it. Iso became the first full-time female athletic trainer in the history of the NFL in 2002. Her position with the Pittsburgh Steelers made her one of the first women directly involved in men’s professional sports.
“It was difficult to become a female trainer when I started my career, but in the past 10 years I’ve seen more and more doors open for female athletic trainers,” said Iso, in an interview with the Oracle. “I was really lucky to work with a great owner, coaching staff and colleagues in Pittsburgh. Coach Cowher even has three daughters, so he was used to being around women.”
Iso worked with the Steelers until 2011 when she was hired as the head football athletic trainer at her alma mater Oregon State.
“If I never got my opportunity from the Pittsburgh Steelers, I never would have gotten the chance to be the head football athletic trainer at my alma mater,” said Iso. “As long as there is opportunity for female trainers to gain experience, there will be opportunities to find full-time training jobs as well.”
Iso’s advancement into a man’s world through athletic training opened the door for women to move into the extremely male-dominated role of coaching.
This summer, the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter as a summer/preseason intern, making her the first female coach of any capacity in NFL history. Welter coached the Cardinal’s inside linebackers during training camp.
“You have to have dreams. I knew as soon as I started playing football that it was my destiny,” said Welter, in her introductory press conference. “I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew that God had put me on a path and that I had to be smart enough to put my head down, go to work and let him put me to work.”
Sports have largely been dominated by men since their inception. Iso, Welter and Hammon have won significant victories toward the credibility of women in this realm. Experienced and qualified women will now be able to show why they belong. Women all around the world are seeing other women as an important part of sports and not just as spectators.
“We show little girls all the time to be beautiful and to do it all the wrong ways. We show them as accessories, for no other better way to put it,” said Welter. “That’s what they grow up thinking that fame is or success is. I want little girls to grow up knowing that when they put their mind to something, when they work hard, that they can do anything regardless of those things.”