Intern linebacker coach Jen Welter of the Arizona Cardinals became what is believed to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the National Football LeagueIntern linebacker coach Jen Welter of the Arizona Cardinals became what is believed to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the National Football League (AFP Photo/Christian Petersen)
Washington (AFP) - Jen Welter caused a stir when she accepted an invitation by Floyd Mayweather's camp to attend what he insists was the last fight of his career at the weekend.
Some said she should not associate with a man who, while being the best boxer of his generation, is equally notorious for a string of cases of domestic violence.
But then Welter is used to confounding the critics.
This summer she became what is believed to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the National Football League.
Like boxing, NFL is a notoriously male-dominated sport and one which in recent times has hit the headlines for a series of unsavory incidents of domestic violence against women.
Welter, 37, who was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coaching intern for training camp and preseason to work with inside linebackers, believes in creating change from within -- hence why she accepted the Mayweather invitation.
"Hopefully what I did was to create an opportunity to open the door where other women will come through and do not only what I've done, but even more so," Welter told AFP, reflecting on her trailblazing experience within the NFL.
Welter, who says she was given a "great" reception from the first time that she entered the Cardinals locker room, is keen to stress that domestic violence is a wider problem and not something only the NFL has to grapple with.
And she makes clear -- as he did -- that Cardinals coach Bruce Arians brought her in on merit, not to fight some greater cause.
"And yet when we see those problems (of sportsmen committing violence against women), what we can do is create change and that's what you hope," she said.
"When those people do it we have the opportunity to say that's not ok and we have the opportunity to change it."
- Giving a vision -
Welter may have been the first woman coach in the NFL, but she is not the lone female making headway in US sports, though their numbers remain miniscule.
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon made worldwide headlines when she guided the NBA team to a summer league championship in Las Vegas.
Speaking on the eve of Mayweather's supposed swan song in the same city, Welter rejected the notion that she was a one-off in the NFL.
"No way, no way," said Welter, who holds at PhD in psychology.
"(What I did) gives girls and women who love football a place for the very first time.
"It gives them a vision: they see that they can grow up and be in the NFL. It's a dream that's never been there before.
"There are lots of girls growing up with football and they now have opportunities to see it in a different way."
Welter, a Florida native who has been involved in women's football for 15 years, is ambitious that her Cardinals experience is just a first foray into the NFL -- not only for her, but for other women too.
"I have a lot of things left to do. I hope to get my next job with an NFL team, but it is step by step," she said.
"Any time you change the expectation of what is possible, of course there are going to be a lot of questions and I'm honored to be the one to answer those questions and be able to say: yes it was a first and now there can be a next."