PEMBROKE — Jennifer King never expected to be the first full-time assitant coach in the NFL.
Now that she is, she wants others to see her in that position and believe that they too can do anything they want in the sports world, regardless of gender.
Her perspective was the highlight of the women in sports panel discussion on the second night of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Cash Bash fundraiser, held virtually Wednesday.
“I didn’t really envision doing this, because I didn’t see anyone that looked like me doing it,” King said. “Now that I’m here, I think it’s super important for me to be a visual for those kids, not just for girls but for kids in general, to see someone that looks like them in a position that they can achieve. I think it really opens up your mind and your dreams for what you want to achieve.”
For other women, particularly minority women, who are interested in coaching, King serves as a role model. This includes Alexis Pittman, a UNCP senior soccer player who wants to go into coaching and was part of the panel discussion.
“It gives me a lot of encouragement and also a lot of sources to pull from to grow, specifically as a coach,” Pittman said. “Just seeing women like Coach King, and different minority women that are coaches of some sort of sport, it gives me a lot of encouragement and a lot of positivity and hope.”
That representation goes beyond being a woman in a male-dominated industry. King, from Reidsville, also wants to provide representation for her small-town roots and the proof that anyone from anywhere can accomplish their goals.
“You can get out and do great things, and just because you’re from a small town doesn’t mean you can’t see the world and do things,” King said. “I’ve realized that people really respect that and I don’t take it lightly to represent Reidsville well.”
King is an offensive assistant for the Washington Football Team and head coach Ron Rivera, where she works with the running backs and the offensive quality control staff. Her duties include breakdowns of both the Washington team’s performance and future opponents.
The culture around the team is what King said has made Rivera’s teams successful in the past, with the Carolina Panthers where she interned under him, and can make Washington successful in the years to come.
“Coach Rivera is all about culture,” King said. “He’s a great leader, and a lot of his leadership is culture-driven. It was in Carolina and now that’s what he’s trying to do here, and people are really buying into that.”
While the X’s and O’s were different when King coached basketball collegiately at Johnson & Wales, she said the cultural aspect of coaching is the same.
“It’s all about managing the people and creating that culture of success in totality,” King said. “It’s not just winning, because once you start doing things off the court and field that are successful, I’ve found that that starts trickling into winning. When you build those relationships, it doesn’t matter which sport it is, people will play hard for you.”
In addition to her coaching career, King is a longtime successful player in the Women’s Football Alliance, and said she may play at least one more season next spring. She’d like to see women’s professional football become more mainstream in American sports culture.
“This is good football, it’s not like lingerie football, it’s normal 11-on-11 football,” King said. “There’s athletes playing at a very high level, and there’s plenty of former big-time athletes out there running the football and making tackles.”
King’s advice for prospective coaches is to make themselves so good at the job that they won’t be turned away.
“Know that if you have a plan and if your skill set is so good there’s always going to be value for you, so try to be so good that people can’t deny you because your skills are so good and the value you bring to a team,” she said.
The Cash Bash continues Thursday at 7 p.m. with special guest Brian Bersticker, who played basketball for North Carolina from 1997-02 and currently runs the Rams Club. Pembroke native and University of Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson joins the event Friday and North Carolina State basketball legend Dereck Whittenburg will on Saturday.
Registration for the event, which is free, remains open at UNCPBraves.com/CashBash.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.