To kick off African American History Month 2024, we will discuss all of the black women’s excellence in the NFL. Particularly all of the black women who are the first to accomplish incredible things. We should have had black women in these positions and more far before, but we’ll celebrate that it is happening.

As a white woman, I experience the impacts of sexism in the NFL and sporting world. However, it is important to acknowledge that black women experience far more prejudice, as they experience both racism and sexism. Which is why it is so important to talk about and honor these achievements.

Let’s meet our ladies!

Maia Chaka – 1st Black Woman NFL Referee


Maia Chaka (Photo courtesy of JB Agency).

Our NFL refereeing system desperately needs revisions. Having people from diverse backgrounds in the position will only prove to benefit the overall group. Maia Chaka is one of those voices we so desperately need. Chaka is the first black female referee and the third female referee in the NFL.

Although you’ve seen her in NFL games since 2021, she isn’t new to the officiating gig. As a sports fanatic as a child, she stayed active in the athletic world by being a PE teacher in Virginia and officiating at the high school level as of 2006. She preferred football because it was the only sport she couldn’t play as a kid.

In 2011, she began refereeing at the collegiate level, and by 2014, she was a member of the NFL’s Mackie Development Program. Referees in the MDP are the first to be selected as NFL refs when there’s an opening. These elite refs also get experience mentoring veteran NFL referees, attending different training events, and officiating pre-season NFL games.

It wasn’t until 2021 that Maia made it onto the NFL referee roster. It’s surprising to me how well trained NFL refs are before getting into the leagues, because you can’t usually tell. It’s clear, though, that Ms. Chaka is heavily committed and on top of her game.

Sandra Douglass Morgan – 1st Black Woman NFL Team President


Sandra Douglass Morgan (Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Raiders).

In 2022, Sandra Douglass Morgan became the first black female president of a franchise—the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s one thing to say that you value women in leadership roles on your team; it’s another to make a woman the president of the top leadership position. That’s what’s called putting your money where your mouth is.

Smooth sailing was not predicted. The Raiders have not been particularly habitable for women in the past for a variety of reasons. They are also making it through their hot mess stage football-wise, as we know.

Of course, Douglass Morgan is a natural fit. She is a lawyer who has years of experience breaking racial and gender-related barriers in leadership positions. Sandra does not suffer ignorance lightly and has helped create the changes that we’ve seen in Vegas since she’s arrived.

She was quoted by Essence as saying: “I’m hopeful my appointment will show traditionally underrepresented groups—whether they be women, LGBTQ, people of color, veterans or those with disabilities—that they, too, can have a presence at every level in the sports and entertainment industry.”

It’s working! Ms. Douglas Morgan is truly an inspiration to us all. Especially those of us that don’t fit the “status quo” of those in the sports world.

Mellody Hobson – 1st Black Woman NFL Team Owner


Mellody Hobson (Victor Powell/Powell Photography, Inc.).

Mellody Hobson, the first black female owner of an NFL franchise, is a football icon. She became owner of the Denver Broncos in 2022 as part of the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group.

Hobson isn’t exactly a wallflower in leadership positions. She is the chairwoman of Starbucks and the co-CEO of Ariel Investments. Mellody feels this moment is both historical and humbling and is putting owning an NFL team in her “wildest dreams” category.

Having a black female owner of an NFL franchise is definitely in our “wildest dreams,” too, Ms. Hobson. Talk about aspirational.

Collette V. Smith – 1st Black Woman NFL Coach Ever


Collette Smith delivers a key note address at Johns Hopkins University regarding her trailblazing in the NFL (Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University).

Collette Smith is the first black female NFL coach ever in 2017. 2017 y’all! She was also the first female coach for the NY Jets.

Coaching was nothing new for Ms. Collette. At 42, she began playing professional football for the New York Sharks but was sidelined by an injury. Not one to forget about football, she began coaching for two different women’s football leagues: the WFL and the IWFL. Then Smith took the NFL by storm.

Since her stint as a coach, Collette Smith is still affiliated with the female football league, WFLA. She also advocates for the ending of domestic abuse and human trafficking alongside NFL stars like Aaron Rodgers and Markus Golden.

Smith is also a motivational speaker and founder of Believe N You, Inc., where she works on empowering individuals, particularly children in a school setting. Learn more about her company here.

Jennifer King – 1st Black Woman Full-Time NFL Coach


Jennifer King on the sidelines at the Washington Commanders’ stadium (Photo courtesy of Courtney Rivera).

Ms. Jennifer King broke the NFL when she became the first full-time NFL coach and the first black female assistant coach.

King values her role as a trailblazer. She understands the importance of representation and acknowledges that she is that person for many others.

Citing San Francisco 49ers coach Katie Sowers as the woman who opened the door for her to enter into her coaching gig, Jennifer has run through that door and is leaving the door behind for many others. King also credits Ron Rivera for giving her a chance. We discussed his commitment to bringing diversity to the league here.

Players like J.D. McKissic are Jennifer King’s biggest cheerleaders. They understand that the talent of the coach is what matters, not their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Society should be more like that.

Autumn Lockwood – 1st Black Woman To Coach In The Super Bowl


Autumn Lockwood – Philadelphia Eagles 2022-2023 Strength Coach (Photo courtesy of ETSU).

Ms. Amber Lockwood was on the sidelines as the first black woman to coach at the Super Bowl last year.

Lockwood was hired as a strength and conditioning associate for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022, her Super Bowl year. It wasn’t long before she was promoted to associate performance coach in 2023.

Autumn is no stranger to sports coaching. In 2017, she interned with the UNLV football program and was assisting in strength and conditioning for the University of Arizona’s Olympic sports. While getting her masters in sports management at East Tennessee State, Autumn was a strength and conditioning graduate assistant for the basketball program from 2018 to 2020.

Lockwood wasn’t a total stranger to the NFL – she interned with the Atlanta Falcons’ strength staff in 2019.

Before returning to football, Autumn got experience as the director of sports performance at the University of Houston and the assistant director of basketball sports performance at ETSU from 2021 to 2022.

We can’t wait to see how Autumn Lockwood’s career develops in the upcoming years!

Nicole Lynn – 1st Black Woman Agent To Represent NFL Quarterback In The Super Bowl


Jalen Hurts’ agent, Nicole Lynn (Photo courtesy of Yahoo News).

Nicole Lynn doesn’t look like a stereotypical superhero, but not all heroes wear capes.

Lynn is probably best known for being the agent for Jalen Hurts. It’s amazing that Lynn was the first black woman to represent an NFL QB in the Super Bowl, and it was also the first Super Bowl that two black QBs faced off last year. How amazing is that?

At just 34, Nicole is a lawyer, agent, author, president of a company, and a public speaker.

Besides Jalen Hurts, Nicole also reps Myles Garrett, Will Anderson Jr., and Bijan Robinson.

What makes Ms. Lynn a super hero to me? As a football historian who sees many men struggle with their post-NFL lives, one of the hardest life transitions there is, I so value her contributions. Nicole is committed to teaching NFL players financial literacy through workshops, connecting NFL prospects with mentors, and holding “adulting” classes that teach young men the basics of adulthood. Something most young people can attest to being incredibly difficult.

What does the agent want us to know? She didn’t just become Jalen Hurts’ agent overnight. It took her 10 years and one million undrafted free agents before she got to where she is today. She wants us to know she worked herself to the bone to get to where she was. We respect your hard work, Ms. Lynn! It is an important reminder that dreams come true, but they require hard work and determination.

Natara Holloway Branch – 1st Black Woman NFL VP


Natara Holloway Branch in her NFL garb (Photo courtesy of NFL).

Although not currently the Vice President of the NFL, Ms. Natara Holloway Branch certainly left her mark in the organization. She worked in the NFL in a variety of positions for 18 years. Natara became the first black female VP in 2019 and stayed in the position for three years.

Holloway Branch made the career decision to move on from the NFL to become the CEO of a Houston-based company that is dedicated to brand development and marketing for start-ups. That’s what we call a career glow-up around here.

Natara has a fairly optimistic view of the changes that she has seen in the NFL. She pointed out other ladies, like Sandra Douglass Morgan, as a sign of progress. She also had positive words for other young women and people of color when talking about her time in the NFL as VP, saying:

“It meant the world. I wanted to be that possibility for other young women, young people of color. That’s what I hope is the legacy I left at the NFL.”

Goal accomplished. What a true inspiration.

Lisa Salters – 1st & Longest Tenured Black Woman Sideline Reporter on MNF


Lisa Salters – one of the NFL’s first black female sideline reporters (Photo courtesy of Sports As Told By A Girl).

Lisa Salters has been in the sports media world, working for ESPN on ABC since 2000. She has truly covered it all in her 20+ years as a sports reporter. She was the first black female MNF sideline reporter, which is monumental.

For many of us young girls growing up, though, women like Lisa Salters were important representations for us while watching a male-dominated sport. She reminded us (i.e., me) that there was a place for women in the NFL when there were few women present other than cheerleaders. Those ladies can absolutely serve as inspirations as well, but it didn’t feel appealing or fair that that could be the only option for a young lady.

When asked about how she feels about being the first black female sideline reporter for MNF, she said she felt proud, credited the people who paved the way for her to be able to pursue her dreams, and is focused on creating future progress. Well said, as always, Salters!

Justine Lindsay – 1st Transgender Black Woman Cheerleader


Ms. Justine Lindsay (Chanelle Smith-Walker/Carolina Panthers).

Justine Lindsay is a brave trailblazer. Lindsay is the first black female trans cheerleader in the NFL. She has been a member of the Carolina Panthers cheer squad since 2022, and she has been gracing our screens on Sundays ever since.

Lindsay discussed the positives of her position (huge amounts of support from so many people), the insecurity in her appearance that so many of us fellow women can identify with, and then the truly negative of a society that is sometimes more backwards than she was expecting.

Self-love is Justine’s best way of taking care of herself while she struggles with the hardships that come with trailblazing. She has heard from the parents of many trans kids who say she is such an important sign of representation for their children.

We appreciate all the sacrifices that Justine Lindsay faces to be the first transgender cheerleader and woman of color in the NFL.

Keep up with African American History Month 2024 articles here – you don’t want to miss a single one!