Women Are Tackling New Opportunities In The NFL

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With the cooler temperatures and changing colors, it also means that it’s time for football. My son particularly loves this time of year, because he usually gets to help his dad and uncle coach their high school football team. It’s one of the highlights of his year. 

I admit that I would not follow the NFL if I didn’t have boys who really cared about it, but this news is actually kinda cool! There’s a RECORD of 12 women who now hold positions in the NFL. That’s impressive, as is the fact that “Women now fill 38% of jobs in the NFL’s management office and two women work as league referees.” Even if the progress is slow, and even if we’d all love to see greater leaps forward, the statistics show an important uptick, due in part to the NFL’s Women’s Careers in Football Forum (WCFF).


Venessa Hutchinson, senior manager of football programming at the NFL, says: “We want the women to get in a room with people who are decision-makers and let them introduce themselves and just have access to folks they wouldn’t necessarily have access to.” 

Of course, I’m aware that trends don’t always continue. They can change, evolve, grow, or prove to be nothing at all. This one is a trend that I’d like to see continue, which is why I talk about it every chance I get. It’s been a long time coming, with more than its fair share of bumps along the way. The very first woman to work as a full-time assistant coach was Kathryn Smith, who was with the Buffalo Bills in 2016. But she wasn’t retained when Rex Ryan left the team.  

With such a brief blip, Katie Sowers, assistant coach for the 49ers, was a welcome and celebrated addition as the first female coach for a Super Bowl game. She was applauded for pushing and breaking gender boundaries, not only as a woman but also as a lesbian. She’d been with the 49ers since 2018, but she didn’t last long after her appearance with the team at the Super Bowl.  

What Are The Challenges For Female Players & Coaches?

American football is a rough-and-tumble sport that has been dominated by men since it was first invented at Yale University in 1879. Patricia Palinkas was the first known female football player when she joined the Orlando Panthers in 1970. And there has been just a trickle of female football players since then.  

So women have not been absent from the sport of football. It’s just not been a welcoming sport, nor has it been particularly common to see women as part of football teams. Still, influential women like Executive Amy Trask, Owner Martha Firestone Ford, Announcer Beth Mowins, and Referee Sarah Thomas have forged ahead, paving a path for women who continue to challenge the barriers and roadblocks in the NFL

Thomas doesn’t really want to be noticed, and she says, “I don’t necessarily think of it (challenges to get to the NFL) as adversity.” She adds, “I just think that with anything, you learn. So there’s going to be things that come your way and I think it’s just how you tackle them.”

What About The Equity Pipeline?

Up until now, the NFL’s inclusivity efforts have been sad and depressing. How could women really expect to reach those positions of authority when so few female employees were even being hired? Perhaps this is one of those HR nightmares that just had to be addressed at the right time by the right people.  

Last year, Troy Vincent, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations, talked about inclusivity and diversity with The Washington Post. As part of the expansion of the Rooney Rule, teams are required to interview a female or minority candidate as part of the process for hiring senior-level positions. It doesn’t go as far as it could or should, but these are steps in the right direction.  

And it sure appears to be working. In an interview with CNBC last month, Samantha (Sam) Rapoport said, “Now, when you look at the landscape of the NFL this season, we have 12 female coaches and over 12 female scouts. We have two female officials, and we have female presidents. We have females at almost every level, except for that top head coach and GM spot, which will come soon.” 

It’s awesome to see more inclusivity, diversity, and equity in the NFL, but it’s also great to see talented and resourceful women who are now able to do what they love on the field and off. Thomas says, “I’ve learned this myself: Go out and do it because you love it.”


What are your thoughts about women in the NFL? Please leave your comments below. 

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