Thursday, February 22, 2024

Seventh Annual NFL Women’s Forum: The Future of Football

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INDIANAPOLIS — It all started in 2017, when Sam Rapoport had a vision for women to have more of a presence in the NFL. She felt that it was important to create an initiative and pipeline where women could work together and set a foundation that would be important for women to grow within this game that we all love so much.

Since then, 26 teams have hired past forum participants and over 225 opportunities have emerged for women in the NFL. Last summer, the NFL had 15 women in coaching roles during training camp – a record for any male professional sports league in the world.

The forum kicked off with a panel that included NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, head coaches Mike Vrabel and Brian Daboll, general managers Brandon Beane and Andrew Berry Cleveland, Darcie Glazer-Kassewitz (Tampa Bay Buccaneers ownership) and Dasha Smith, NFL Executive VP & Chief Administrative Officer.

“I couldn’t even imagine having a career in football when I was sort of coming up the ranks, and so this is so awesome that this can no longer be a dream but a reality for so many people.” Smith said.

One common thread throughout the day was how passion, dreams and perseverance got us to where we are today and how together we can set a foundation.

Regarding women in the NFL, Goodell said, “We have not begun to reach it’s heights and what is to come.” He continued to stress how women are the future of football, but it’s not just hiring women, it’s hiring the best candidate for the job whether that be a man or women, but giving women a chance is where it starts.

Rapoport pointed out that it’s no conscience that the last three Coach of the Year winners were all coaches who have hired women for their immediate staffs: Daboll (2022), Vrabel (2021) and Kevin Stefanski (2020).

“I didn’t hire the women because I have daughters, I didn’t hire them because I have strong people [women] in my life. I hired them because they were good. There’s such a great talent pool that’s untapped,” said Daboll.

“We all have the same goal, to win,” said Jennifer King, the Washington Commanders’ running backs coach.

After the initial introduction Rapoport hosted a discussion with some of the leagues “Firsts” coaches:

  • Lori Locust, Tennessee Titans defensive quality control coach.
  • Autumn Lockwood, Philadelphia Eagles strength and conditioning seasonal associate.
  • Angela Baker, New York Giants offensive quality control coach,
  • Callie Brownson, Cleveland Browns assistant wide receivers Coach,
  • Jennifer King Washington Commanders Assistant Running Backs coach; and
  • Maral Javadifar, Tampa Bay Buccaneers director of rehabilitation and performance coach.

Participating in these discussions were 41 women who are currently seeking opportunities in the NFL. Most of the participants ranged from operations, scouting and video coordinators at the collegiate level, to player development within Scouting Networks. The panel opened with a Q & A, giving them a chance to ask questions about how they handled certain situations in the workplace.

“Everyone experiences criticism, that’s life, but we have to keep moving forward,” said Brownson.

The advice poured out as the panel shared personal experiences about how they dealt with adversity. In the end, discussions like this are important. It’s vital that women have a place where we can relate to one another, discuss, and give each other guidance in a space predominantly owned by men.

As Lori Locust said, “the NFL is not male dominant, its male prevalent!”

This is an important message because using the word dominant suggests that women aren’t supposed to be here. But we are all working together to achieve the same goal, and that’s to win!

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