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A King Among Kings

The Washington Football Team's assistant running backs coach Jennifer King has cemented her status as a trailblazer for Black women in the NFL.

Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.


Just a few years ago, Jennifer King was spending her time coaching on a court, not the football field. As the head women’s basketball coach at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, King won a USCAA Division II national championship with the team in 2018. But it just so happened that her office was near the Carolina Panthers practice facility, so she networked her way to a meeting with then coach Ron Rivera and was eventually hired as a coaching intern with the team.

Fast forward to today and King, 37, is now the assistant running backs coach for the Washington Football Team, a history-making promotion made after a full year as a coaching intern in 2020 that made her the first full-time Black female assistant coach in NFL history. She also became the second female assistant position coach in the NFL behind Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust.

It was a truly unprecedented for a woman in the NFL, especially for the little Black girl from Eden, N.C. But growing up, King learned from an early age not to back down—a work ethic that paid off and stays with her to this day.

“The guys were impressed and trying to get me on their team because I was talented athletically,” she says of her childhood. “I developed a strong groundwork. You really learn how to play and develop your skill set.”

Before joining Washington, King served as an offensive assistant at Dartmouth in 2019, where she primarily worked with the wide receivers and helped the team win the Ivy League championship. Between her two internships with the Panthers in ’18 and ’19, King was an assistant wide receivers coach and special teams assistant for the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football. She also has experience on the field—she played on three professional women's football teams from '06 to ’19: the Carolina Phoenix, the New York Sharks and the D.C. Divas.

“Sports has kind of always been my thing, and it was big in my family as well. I just kind of developed a really big love for it at a young age,” she says. “Love to play it, love to watch it. And now I get to coach it.”

As a full-time assistant coach, King stays busy strategizing, instructing and developing the team’s running backs, as well as aiding in the offensive quality control. While clever plays and strenuous workouts help build a strong team, King also believes planning is key to her coaching style. King takes her planning experience seriously. She feels it’s what gives her the respect and ability to rally her team to become one, a unified force—which is the very core of any successful team.

Because she has a game plan in place, King feels she knows her team before she even physically meets them. She stays ready and is unflappable when it comes to keeping them in the game. King is no stranger to rallying men. As a former police officer, she is tough and fearless when it comes to coaching and keeping everyone in line.

King doesn’t live by excuses or shortcuts. She believes there is only one way to success: hard work. Her philosophy is one we can all live by.

“There’s no substitute for hard work, and once you decide that you want to do something, narrow your focus on what you want to do and then make a plan to get there. And know that there’s going to be some tough times along the way,” she says.

“Maybe some doors shut in your face, but just know if you’re qualified and you’re good enough and have that passion that you can get to that level.”

Empower Onyx/Sports Illustrated present Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports

Senita L. Brooks is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multichannel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.