The Buffalo Bills made history this week by hiring Kathryn Smith, the first female assistant coach in the National Football League. Smith will serve as special teams assistant quality control coach, a role that's essentially the entry level position in the NFL coaching ranks. Smith will do film review and breakdowns, help the special teams coach and do some on-the-field coaching work, too. Both the Bills and Smith should be very proud of taking a proverbial step in the quest for women's equality in professional sports.
However - and this is certainly not to take away anything from this enormous feat - the attention this hire has received has appeared to overshadow other irreplaceable women that help run NFL and other league's sports teams. Although she isn't a coach, you'd be hard-pressed to find a person - man or woman - more instrumental to a sports organization than Katie Blackburn currently is to the Cincinnati Bengals. The conversation about women's equality in modern sports fails to give her enough credit.
And yet, while people around the nation now know Smith's name, Blackburn's reputation virtually stops once you reach Cincinnati's city limits.
In October of 2014, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that although Mike Brown still owned the team, it was Katie Blackburn, his daughter, as well as head coach Marvin Lewis who had essentially took over the franchise. That hasn't changed. In fact, Blackburn's impact on the Bengals' operations has only grown as Brown has continuously loosened his fingers on the reigns of the team. People will argue that the move from Brown to Blackburn was completely due to family ties - but Blackburn has proven that she's more than adequately prepared to propel this team to success.
It's a success we're living as a fanbase.
The Bengals are known as a team that's a model for consistency, a team that has drafted well and a team that manages their salary cap well. They currently have the least dead money (money spent on players not on the roster) of any team in the NFL.
Marvin Lewis, of course, is well-known for his accomplishments on the field, having played an integral role in the Bengals making their fifth straight playoff appearance in 2015. However, it's Blackburn who has played an equally important role behind the scenes, running the negotiations process with players' agents to determine their salary, amid a laundry list of duties that ultimately help give Lewis the tools he needs to succeed.
Brown gets the credit as owner, Lewis gets credit for the team winning games, and Blackburn... well, the name somehow gets lost in translation along the way.
So let's congratulate the Bills and Kathryn Smith, while we also remember that Katie Blackburn is quietly one of the women doing a great job and paving the way for other women in the NFL ranks.