‘I’m glad that people are hearing my story.’
I grew up watching football, going to college games when I was really young. It was something we did as a family. When I was in high school, I worked with my dad on the sidelines doing stats for high school games, and that really grew my love for that side of football—not playing but still being a part of it, the behind-the-scenes-type work.
I worked with the Buffalo Bills as an administrative assistant, so I knew many of them before my position changed and I became the special teams quality-control coach. They really embraced me as a coach, as another member of the staff, and not a lot of emphasis was put on the fact that I’m female and they’re all males.
When I was initially approached about the special teams quality-control position, we did know that there hadn’t been a full-time female coach. But it really wasn’t something that we talked about. So it was a little bit of a surprise that it blew up as much as it did initially. We were not expecting that at all.
The Arizona Cardinals had Jen Welter with them in training camp in 2015 as an inside-linebackers coach. And there are so many females in the NFL. One of the Buffalo Bills owners is a woman, Kim Pegula. When the announcement of my position was made last year, Kim texted me, “Don’t let it be about being a female. Do the best job you can. Show them through doing a great job that you deserve to be in this spot.” Getting that support from her just really reinforced in me that I have the support of the team and the organization. Doing my job as best I could was going to be my focus.
It really hit me how significant it was when the attention was so nonstop. It was a story that hung around. I wouldn’t say there’s one moment, but over time it settled in that, wow, this was something that was pretty unique and pretty special.
I am aware that there have been some negative comments made from people who maybe didn’t understand more and are questioning my qualifications, questioning my job. But overall it has been much more positive than negative.
Being in that position afforded me new opportunities. I interviewed with a young girl a few months ago for an Empower Girls program here in Buffalo. I was invited to go to the White House, which was a really amazing experience. But I’m glad that people are hearing my story—especially young girls, but even young boys and older girls—and can take something out of it as far as hard work and being able to fulfill your dreams is really special.
I’ve worked with a lot of women throughout my time in the NFL who I’ve seen grow in their positions and make great moves with different teams in the league. Just to see them excel and work hard and move on to the next level, that has been inspiring, and it shows that this industry is willing to reward people for their hard work—that the best person for the job is the person who will be hired.
My advice for women is the same as my advice for everybody: work hard, take every opportunity that comes. You don’t know when something is going to turn into something else. You don’t know when you’re going to meet somebody who might be able to help you along the way. My hope for women in football is that we continue on this trajectory. As I mentioned, there are a lot of women in the NFL, and in professional sports across a lot of leagues. I hope it becomes less a story about being a woman and more of a story about doing a great job, about being elevated.
If you do the best that you can and you work as hard as possible, those opportunities will come to you. It may take a while. You will probably have to be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight, but if you’re persistent and you just keep grinding, good things will happen.
Smith, who began her NFL career as a game-day intern with the New York Jets, left the Buffalo Bills in January 2017.