One of the great milestones for any American-raised athlete is the privilege of being invited to the White House. A celebration of one’s glories on the intense field of play, simultaneously a tremendous moment of patriotic national pride, and such a visit is commemorated by an opportunity to rub shoulders with the President of the United States. Undoubtedly, for an athlete to gain an audience with the President signifies that one has truly arrived as a sporting icon, symbolizing a remarkable achievement and quite possibly, a great personal milestone.
In March 2015, Dr. Jen Welter was among a proud group of invited guests at the White House for Women’s History Month, a celebration that recognized the accomplishments of women in all facets of society. Having spoken to the White House Council on Women and Girls in the past, a group founded by President Barack Obama, Welter became a global celebrity after a preseason spent serving as the linebackers coach for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, an unprecedented first.
While medalists from the Summer and Winter Games, along with championships from all NCAA women’s sports gain the opportunity to visit the White House, such gatherings tend to be very large and do not allow much time for socializing. Welter would gain the opportunity to enjoy a chat with Obama, definitely an indication of her impact on the American sporting and social scene.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was reserved for Obama, who respectfully commented that he thought Welter would be much taller, as she was continuously handling up on the giants who grace the gridirons of the NFL. As Welter told ESPN, she laughed and replied that if she were taller, she would likely be playing basketball, which is also the President’s favorite sport. Shaking her hand, he was quoted as saying, “I love everything that you’re doing.”
Having taken a photo with Obama, a jubilant Welter finally received said photo in early May, immediately posting it with pride on her Instagram account. Perhaps even more cherished is the fact that he mentioned Welter twice in his speech, acknowledging her achievements and proclaiming her as a role model, mentioning that the glass ceiling does not exist anymore.
During Obama’s presidency, a unique parallel is the rising impact of women in sport, which has grown by a quantum leap in a very remarkable time. Among such achievements, the United States captured the FIFA Women’s World Cup, women have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, there have been two Women’s World Tackle Football Championships, baseball was contested as a medal sport at the Pan American Games, the first world women’s ice sledge hockey championships were played, professional leagues for hockey and lacrosse have started. The 2015 NFL season not only featured the presence of women such as Dr. Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas making their mark on history, with Welter coaching and Thomas officiating, there was also a Women in Football summit during the events leading up to the 50th Super Bowl.
Adding to such jubilation is the fact that Welter will be returning to the White House on June 14 for the United States of Women summit, where she will be speaking. As a side note, Welter’s visit represented another great chapter in the growing history of female athletes visiting the White House. Just a few months earlier, the victorious United States squad from the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup gained a photo of with President Obama that would have once been reserved for World Series champions. Undoubtedly, the respect for women and their prominence in society shall definitely stand as one of Obama’s greatest benchmarks as President, highlighted by their ability to make their mark as sporting icons.