Goshen College graduate to coach in Super Bowl

College issues apology for past LGBTQ discrimination

Jan 27, 2020 by and

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As Katie Sowers prepares to make history as the first female and first openly gay person to coach in a Super Bowl, Goshen (Ind.) College has released a statement apologizing for discrimination she experienced at the college 11 years ago.

On Feb. 2, Sowers will be on the sidelines as an offensive assistant coach focusing on wide receivers with the San Francisco 49ers when they play the Kan­sas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

Katie Sowers huddles with San Francisco 49ers players on Oct. 13. — San Francisco 49ers
Katie Sowers huddles with San Francisco 49ers players on Oct. 13. — San Francisco 49ers

A 2009 Goshen graduate, Sowers has stated publicly she was denied a volunteer women’s basketball assistant coaching position at Goshen because of her sexual orientation.

On Jan. 22, the college released a statement by President Rebecca Stoltzfus praising Sowers and expressing regret for how the college had treated her.

“While we cannot go back and change history, justice calls us to stand up now and say that the way Goshen College treated Katie’s offer to coach was hurtful and wrong,” Stoltzfus stated.

“I express on behalf of the institution our profound apologies to Katie Sowers and to all others who have not been welcomed here, simply because of who they are.”

Stoltzfus said she was grateful for policy changes and progress toward inclusiveness.

“Sadly, in 2009, our policies and the laws of Indiana allowed for hiring decisions to consider sexual orientation,” Stoltzfus wrote. “I am glad that Goshen College adopted a new nondiscrimination policy in 2015, and I am thankful for the leaders before me who brought this change about, not the least of whom were our students and alumni.”

Stoltzfus said the college was proud of what Sowers has achieved “and the ways that she leads on and off the football field with authenticity, grace and excellence.”

Following the apology, Sowers told NBC Sports Bay Area she loved her time at Goshen and everything the college represents, and that experience actually led her to football.

“This moment was tough, but the reality is we all experience rejection and adversity in our lives,” she said. “When, not if, we go through these moments of adversity, we can view them as road blocks and feel sorry for ourselves or we can view them as a part of our story. I prefer to see what happened to me as a detour that put me on a path to where I am now.”

Adding to Sowers’ fame in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, she was featured in ads that aired nationally for the Microsoft Surface Pro computer. An expanded Super Bowl commercial included a photo of her father, Floyd Sowers, coaching the Bethel College women’s basketball team in the mid-1990s in Thresher Gym in North Newton, Kan. Her mother Bonnie Sowers directed Hesston College’s nursing program for 37 years.

“If it wasn’t for my parents,” she told the Kansas City Star, “I don’t think I’d even be close to where I am.”

Passion for athletics

Sowers grew up at Hesston Mennonite Church and transferred to Goshen from Hesston College. She competed in basketball, soccer and track and field at Goshen between 2006 and 2009.

“No matter what you do in life, one of the most important things is to be true to who you are,” Sowers stated in an interview with OutSports. “The more we can create an environment that welcomes all types of people, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, the more we can help ease the pain and burden that many carry every day.”

Katie Sowers competed in basketball, soccer and track and field at Goshen College between 2006 and 2009. — Goshen College
Katie Sowers competed in basketball, soccer and track and field at Goshen College between 2006 and 2009. — Goshen College

Jewel Lehman, professor of kinesiology at Goshen College, remembers Sowers as a strong, dedicated student and an amazing all-around athlete.

“In a recommendation letter I described Katie as ‘intelligent, inquisitive and energetic.’ ” Lehman said. “She was always engaged and offering insightful comments during discussions. She was passionate about athletics and had a drive to succeed.”

Sowers graduated in May 2009 with a degree in physical education. She was an NAIA scholar-athlete all three years and holds Goshen’s record for the javelin throw, the sport in which she traveled to nationals in 2008 and 2009.

“Two things have impressed me about Katie,” Lehman said. “First is how good she is at coaching, communicating and relating with and motivating some of the best receivers in the NFL. She would not have gotten this job and still be in it if she wasn’t excellent at what she does.

“Additionally, her positive persistence is amazing. Not everyone has this ability. The coaching opportunities in the NFL did not happen for her overnight or by chance. She was able to make a way into this new territory by being really good at her job, being positively persistent in the face of challenge.”

Not just a coach

As a kid, Sowers loved playing football with her friends and family, but excelled at other sports throughout school, when football was not an option. After graduation, she returned to football with the Women’s Football Alliance, first playing for the West Michigan Mayhem and later the Kansas City Titans.

She played for the United States Women’s National American Football Team, along with her twin sister, Liz, that won the 2013 International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship, and was named MVP.

She left the Titans in 2016 following an injury and had the opportunity to coach in the East-West Shrine Football Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., an all-star game for the best college football players in the country. There, she impressed the right people and was offered an internship with the Atlanta Falcons, working with the wide receivers.

The next year she took the assistant coach position with the 49ers and became the second woman to hold a coaching position in the NFL.

“My long-term goal is to be a head coach and then move on to executive management,” Sowers said in a 2016 interview with Hesston College. “It’s not a typical path, but then again, nothing about what I’m doing is typical.”

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