'Model of diversity and inclusion': Women in the NFL on the rise

Women working in the NFL’s league office is at an all-time high with 319 women holding various positions from team owner to full-time scout. “The biggest challenge was just opportunity,” said Allison Miner, athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Chargers.

David Zalubowski/AP
Indianapolis Colts vice chair Kalen Jackson, also one of the team's owners, watches the Colts' NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Oct. 6, 2022, in Denver. The overall percentage of women in the NFL's league office is at an all-time high of 41.3%.

From the owner’s suite to the front office to the sideline, the number of women in the NFL is steadily rising. And, they’re here to stay.

Kalen Jackson was born into football, one of three daughters of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. She got her introduction to the sport attending community events. Now, she has a seat at the table for owners’ meetings.

Sam Rapoport fell in love with football the first time she held a ball and threw a spiral as a 12-year-old growing up in Canada. Ms. Rapoport ended up becoming a professional quarterback in a women’s tackle football league and has spent two decades working to expand career opportunities for women in the sport.

Ashton Washington was surrounded by football as a kid in Texas, but she says she preferred playing with Barbie dolls. By high school, Ms. Washington wanted a career in football. Last year, the Chicago Bears hired her as the first full-time female scout in team history.

Katie Sylvan grew up in San Diego rooting for the Chargers. She was determined to find a job in football and applied for the NFL’s junior rotational program while in college. After nine years working for the league, Ms. Sylvan was hired by the Chargers to be the team’s director of football administration.

The overall percentage of women in the NFL’s league office is at an all-time high of 41.3% in 2022 with 319 females holding various positions. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport said in its 2022 racial and gender report card that the league office “has been a model of diversity and inclusion for their clubs to follow.”

“To see so many things changing that weren’t this way when I was little is super exciting,” Ms. Jackson, the Colts vice chair/owner, said on the AP Pro Football Podcast last month. “Being from a family of three girls and always being told you belong here and your opinion about this matters, we definitely had a blessing to have a very passionate girl dad, as they say.”

Ms. Rapoport, the NFL’s senior director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, is determined to continue opening doors for women in the league.

“I was somewhat relentless with the idea that I was put on this planet to work in football in some way,” said Ms. Rapoport.

Ms. Rapoport runs the NFL’s Women’s Forum, an annual event that connects participants working in college football with owners, general managers, head coaches, and club executives. More than 225 female coaching, scouting, and operations candidates have been hired since the forum started in 2017.

“We just put women in a position to impress people,” Ms. Rapoport said. “Half our fan base are women. Why aren’t they working in it? We’re working toward that.”

In June, the Cleveland Browns named Catherine Raiche assistant general manager and vice president of football operations, making her the highest-ranking female executive in the NFL. A month later, Sandra Douglass Morgan became the first Black female president of an NFL team when the Las Vegas Raiders hired her.

Kelly Klein is the executive director of football operations for the Denver Broncos. Andrea Gosper is the Buffalo Bills player personnel coordinator.

Ms. Washington first joined the Bears as an intern in 2021 after working in recruiting at the University of Illinois. She was promoted to scout – there are 33 female scouts in the NFL – later that summer. In May, she became the Bears player personnel coordinator, pro scouting.

“I feel like it’s a lot of pressure on me and other females across the league because you want to set the bar and you also want to exceed your personal expectations,” Ms. Washington said.

There are six women who are full-time coaches in the NFL, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and director of rehabilitation/performance coach Maral Javadifar. Washington Commanders assistant running backs coach Jennifer King, New York Giants offensive quality control coach Angela Baker, Cleveland Browns chief of staff/assistant wide receivers coach Callie Brownson, and Philadelphia Eagles sports performance coach Autumn Lockwood are the others.

In 2020, Ms. Locust and Ms. Javadifar became the first female coaches on a team to win the Super Bowl. Sarah Thomas also made history in that game as the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl, working as the down judge.

“It was time for that door to be knocked down and allow them because they’ve been putting in time, and they’re very, very qualified,” former Bucs coach Bruce Arians said about hiring Ms. Locust and Ms. Javadifar.

There are 21 women currently working as athletic trainers in the NFL, including Allison Miner of the Chargers.

“The biggest challenge was just opportunity,” said Ms. Miner, who was one of only three women in her position when she was hired in 2015.

Another obstacle for Ms. Miner early in her career was finding a locker room to change. She would use a public bathroom in the stadium. The NFL now requires space for women at each stadium.

“It’s exciting to see the female faces,” Ms. Miner said. “There’s going to be a day where it’s not a big deal.”

For Ms. Sylvan, it’s important for women to know there are various jobs for them in the NFL. She has embraced her role working on roster management, the salary cap, and player contracts.

“It’s great to see more women in these roles,” Ms. Sylvan said. “There have been women in these roles before me and there will definitely be women in these roles after me. I think that’s really the most important thing is that people understand that these opportunities exist and are out there if it’s something they’re interested in doing and pursuing.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'Model of diversity and inclusion': Women in the NFL on the rise
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today