In a three-year period since the NFL's Women's Careers in Football Forum was created in 2017, 89 women have been hired for football operations jobs through the program.
The forum's fourth-annual meeting happened this past February at the NFL Scouting Combine, with Sam Rapoport, the woman behind it and officially, the NFL's Sr. Director of Diversity & Inclusion.
Rapoport joined Hayley Elwood on the final Women's History Month edition of Playmakers to discuss how she's helping lead programming to retain, develop, and promote qualified diverse candidates into the football operations pipeline at NFL clubs and the league office, and more.
On the Genesis of the Women's Careers in Football Forum
"I was actually playing flag football with Commissioner Roger Goodell in Bronxville about five years ago, (as) he volunteers his time along with Jane (Skinner Goodell) and others to give back to the community in Bronxville. I wanted to gauge his interest level in this. He is such a supporter of out-of-the-box ideas that could serve to help progress the league…. He supported the idea, put me in contact with Troy Vincent and several others (like), Mike Smith at the NFL as well. We all got together and discussed, how do we build a bridge between this large group of people in this country, and in the world quite frankly, who want to work in football, and are just not in the right circles to gain those opportunities? And then, the idea was born."
On Who Attends the Forum & the Success It's Had Since 2017
"The participants are women who are in entry-level football jobs, mostly in college football, who have a desire to work in the NFL but haven't yet made the connections. It's very intentional, and what we're trying to do is take a group of highly talented women, and put them in a room with our owners, general managers and head coaches, and just give them organic opportunities to interact with those folks and create connections to help share opportunities.
We would never say to a club 'Please hire women,' or, 'You need to hire women,' that's not what this is about at all. This is about, 'Please give an opportunity to interview to a group of people who were previously disenfranchised.' And what we've seen as a result is 89 women in a three-year period have been hired through the program. So that model of, just get (women) in the room with (front office members), and allow them to interact one-on-one or three-on-one or what have you, it works, and it's something that is a small amount of progress that we're certainly proud of."
On What it's like Seeing Women Working in NFL Football Ops
"It's incredible. A lot of the reward is coming from the representation that they're serving in the country. I get a lot of letters and emails from young girls who are inspired by women they see on television. (Chargers Assistant Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist) Allison Miner is a great example. When I'm watching Chargers games, I've seen her several times. I've gotten emails and letters from girls about that; just seeing women on the sidelines running to a player when he gets injured. That part of it is so incredibly rewarding, because not only are we inspiring young girls, but we're starting to create the next generation, the next pipeline of candidates."
On Her Ultimate Goal for Women Working in NFL Football Ops
"My ultimate goal is that this program is no longer needed. And, to normalize women in football. That's what we said from the start is what we're trying to achieve. I hope that Hayley, you and I talk every year about this, but at some point, it won't be necessary because it's just not going to be a big deal. Women are going to be ubiquitous and it will reflect the population of our fans. That really is the end goal....
But something interesting to observe is, it's kind of happened with Sarah Thomas, our on-field official. I've been studying that pretty closely because for her first couple of seasons, that's all anyone wanted to talk about. The camera went right to her, they talked about how she's a female down judge and all the things associated with that. And last season, you barely heard anything about it. She's just there. She's just a down judge. That really is what we're trying to achieve. When we stop talking about female coaches and female scouts and female presidents and it's just normal, that is the message of success and we're not going to pat ourselves on the back until we get there."