Gil LeBreton

Smith’s hiring finally gives NFL good female news

Kathryn Smith, right, will assist coach Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills with quality control of the specialty teams.
Kathryn Smith, right, will assist coach Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills with quality control of the specialty teams. AP

A woman made NFL news last week, and she didn’t have to get flung onto a gun-filled sofa or knocked out in an elevator to do it.

In the NFL, progress moves in small steps.

Applause is in order for Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, who promoted Kathryn Smith, 30, to a full-time coaching position. Smith will assist with quality control of the Bills’ specialty teams.

It’s an entry level job, of sorts. Smith likely will watch and break down video of practice and the Buffalo opponents.

She follows in the footsteps of Jen Welter, who interned as an assistant last summer during the Arizona Cardinals’ training camp.

Smith, though, will star in the footnote — the NFL’s first full-time, female assistant coach.

It was empowering enough news that that legend in pink, Barbie herself, took to Twitter (@Barbie) to congratulate Kathryn:

“You are an #inspiration. #youcanbeanything,” Ms. Barbie hash-tagged.

No big deal? You’ve got to be kidding.

This is a league whose historical idea of female participation was the spray-tanned, hot-pantsed Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Its symbol of gender-progressive thinking was Phyllis George.

You only have to go back 12 months to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s Super Bowl press conference to find the NFL drawing its man-line into the sand.

Goodell was asked by respected CNN journalist Rachel Nichols about the perceived conflict of interest that arose when the commissioner mishandled the Ray Rice case.

“I don’t agree with you on a lot of the assumptions you make in your question,” Goodell shot back.

“I think we have done an excellent job of bringing outside consultants in. Somebody has to pay them, Rachel. Unless you’re volunteering, which I don’t think you are, we will do that.”

Would Goodell, who makes $44 million a year, have been as snippy to a male journalist? I don’t think so.

But the NFL gets to share the credit on the Kathryn Smith hiring. It was Ryan’s hire, but the NFL had to have approved.

Predictably, there were neanderthal voices heard barking in the wilderness. The worst of the lot was Cleveland radio guy Kevin Kiley, who said, “This is absurd. I’m sure if I’m running 100 miles an hour under a kickoff and miss a tackle, I’m going to want to hear from Kathryn how I could have done it better.”

Kiley extended his no-women argument to include the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters.

“Do you really want whether you make the Hall of Fame to be determined by a woman, someone who never played the game?” Kiley asked.

Sigh. The old you-never-played-the-game argument.

Yep, football is real rocket science.

Kiley’s point is ludicrous, and I don’t say that just because my colleague Charean Williams is a voter. When next week’s vote comes, I would argue that Charean may be the most dedicated and knowledgeable voter in the room.

You’re either qualified for the job or you’re not. Kathryn Smith, as Rex Ryan affirmed, is as qualified as Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman are for their NBA assistant coach jobs.

The locker room? While an NFL locker room may well be the most sexist, homophobic lodge in sports, teams have come a long ways since making female journalists wait in the hallways.

By all accounts, Barbie’s included, Smith, who started working with the New York Jets eight years ago, is ready for her new job.

And the footnote that properly goes with it.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697,, @gilebreton

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