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Jennifer King Makes History As NFL's First African American Female Assistant Position Coach

Jennifer King walks on the field during warmups for the Washington Football Team. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Jennifer King walks on the field during warmups for the Washington Football Team. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

The conversation between head coach Ron Rivera and Jennifer King was brief yet historic; she was getting promoted, making her the NFL's first-ever African American female assistant position coach.

King, who joined Rivera's staff as a full-year coaching intern last February, will be a full-time assistant running backs coach and will continue working with Randy Jordan and the position group.

King has been on a gradual rise from winning national championships as a player to working under Rivera with two different franchises. She intends to continue that climb in the next phase of her career.

"I'm already watching tapes and figuring out ways to make us better and make myself better," King told Senior Vice President of Media and Content Julie Donaldson. "So it's an ongoing process; It never stops. Although we're in the [offseason], I'm still continuing to grow."

King did not need to gain the respect of anyone when Rivera brought her onto the Washington Football Team staff because she had already earned it. Aside from already working with most of the coaches when she interned with the Carolina Panthers, she had accumulated an extensive resume over the course of a 12-year playing career, which included two national championships with the Carolina Phoenix and New York Sharks, as a quarterback, receiver and safety.

That past experience has helped King see the sport from a unique lens, which is part of the reason why she is so valuable to Rivera's staff. Playing as a receiver, along with coaching Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, helped her work with J.D. McKissic on improving as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.

"I've kind of become well-rounded in offense, just working with different positions has definitely helped," King said. "You can use something from other positions as you move along to the new positions as well."

King had worked in Washington's offensive system before in Carolina, so Jordan initially relied on her for the terminology. That, along with how she works with the players and her attention to detail, makes her input "very, very important" to Jordan.

"I always just try to make sure we're conversing throughout the game and throughout practice in terms of how we can make this running back group the best group we can possibly make. She's been doing a heck of a job."

King being hired full-time is certainly an exciting moment personally, but she also recognizes that it is a step forward for women in football and those aspiring to be in a similar situation. She was already part of a historic moment earlier this season when she, Cleveland Browns' Chief of Staff Callie Brownson and official Sarah Thomas participated in the first game that featured three women on the field in an official capacity.

"I think it is about time that there is some gender equity in this sport," Rivera said after the game. "Women love this game. A lot of them want to play this game, and they play it. A lot of them want to coach it, and they are coaching it. All we are doing is just creating opportunities for people that deserve it."

King is part of a growing trend of women receiving more coaching opportunities in the NFL, and that movement is seeing noticeable results. There were six female coaches in the playoffs this season.

"It's a direct testament to those coaches who are forward thinking and opening up the entire pool when they're looking for people, to hire people to make their programs better," King said. "I don't think it's an oddity that those playoff teams had so many female coaches involved because those coaches...created cultures of growth and inclusion, and those things generally create wins."

King said she has grown over the past season. Not only has she gained a deeper understanding of the sport, but she also can add a full season of coaching to her already-impressive career. Her next goal is to be in charge of her own position group, but she wants to have continued growth while enjoying her new role as well.

"Like Coach [Rivera] always says, 'be where your feet are planted,'" she said. "So I'm just worried about being the best I can in the current position."

That has worked out well so far for King, who took advantage of the opportunities she earned, according to Rivera.

"She is a hard worker, a great communicator and a quality person. Coach King is always eager to learn and has shown tremendous growth since starting here last season. I know she will continue to be an asset to Coach [Scott] Turner, Coach Jordan and the running back group and she earned this opportunity with her hard work. The sky is truly the limit for her."

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