Salli Clavelle will inspire you after five minutes of being around her. She’s in her second season with the San Francisco 49ers as a Pro Personnel Analyst. Salli was the NFL’s first Black female scout, a role she takes to heart. When she first began working in the league, her outlook was different than it is now. She preferred to keep to herself and focus solely on her work. “I just wanted to be a regular scout, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t and I’m okay with that now," she said. "Not because I was treated any differently but because I wasn’t normal, I was a first.”
Clavelle was born and raised in New Orleans, LA and, after completing her Bachelor’s and Masters degrees at Sam Houston State, she made her way back to her hometown to take an internship at Tulane University. Like many, this opportunity was unpaid, so being able to live with her family was financially helpful.
As a college basketball player, she always thought she would go straight into coaching Women’s Basketball. But during her internship at Tulane, her whole perspective changed. She started evaluating players, understanding the lingo and applying it to her daily work.
And she realized how much she loved football. Three months in, the head coach offered Clavelle the Campus Coordinator position. In that role, she managed the database of high school prospects, identified those who might have the ability to play collegiately and organized official and unofficial visits.
While at Tulane, Clavelle said she did everything she could to be the best at her job, often asking the coaches if she could sit in on their meetings to get a feel for what they were looking for. Being a former athlete gave her the ability to subconsciously spot talent. Salli was like a sponge and noticed that the coaches were more than willing to help her learn.
In 2017, she attended the Women’s Careers in Football Forum hosted by the NFL in it’s inaugural year. Following the event, Clavelle sent handwritten notes to all 32 teams. Only one team responded letting her know they were not hiring but, in true Salli Clavelle fashion, she did not let that stop her.
The forum allowed her to get in front of executives she typically would never have the opportunity to meet. “When I went back to Tulane, I let them know what my goals were and where I was trying to go," she said. "Expressing what I wanted to do really helped me. It only takes one person to say ‘Let’s bring you in and give you a chance.' ”
In 2018, she got that one chance and was hired on as a Scouting Assistant by the San Francisco 49ers.
But getting to this point wasn’t easy for her.
“I grew up in the inner city of New Orleans," Clavelle explained, "so I experienced and witnessed things at a young age that a lot of people don’t even realize happens in our (Black) communities. Drugs, gangs and prostitution are to name a few.”
Clavelle remembers times where she would come home to no lights or hot water. She knows what it feels like when things seem like they can’t get any worse, and then they do. It was difficult for her to leave her family and head to the West Coast because deep down she wanted to support them. Three years later, she’s so glad she took the risk.
“The key is to make it out!" Clavelle said. "You can’t change situations or circumstances by doing the same things, you have to be different. Even if that means leaving the place that you call home and leaving your loved ones. Change is HARD! If it were easy, this world would be a completely different place, but it’s not. The events surrounding George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery is proof that it’s not easy for us.”
Clavelle feels passionately about inspiring young girls who are growing up in the same type of environment she did. Between the pandemic and the current social justice movement we see happening across the country, she has been taking time to reflect on her own legacy and what she can do to help.
“My vision has shifted from myself, to the future version of myself," Clavelle explained. "As black women, we don’t have the benefit of fully knowing our history or lineage. So I’m creating my own right now, starting with me. I’m working to grow generational opportunity and success for Black women across the country that will last far longer than me and reach further than I could’ve even imagined. I’m working hard right now, so my nieces, nephews, kids and grandkids don’t have to fight barriers or stereotypes.”
Clavelle encourages all women to be their own advocates and push for what they want to do regardless of what it is or who tells them they can’t.
As a Pro Personnel Analyst for the San Francisco 49ers, she considers herself an encyclopedia for the teams she’s responsible for within the 49ers organization. She scouts the leads, writes reports on anyone released, traded, injured, conducts QB depth charts, records who was signed, who worked out and then evaluates how she thinks each player could benefit the team. She’s always planning one week ahead.
In her first year, the 49ers were plagued by injuries. But Clavelle says you could really feel the shift during the 2019 preseason. “The building was different. Once everyone was healthy, we knew we were going to make a run at the Super Bowl. We were all on one page and had the same goal.”
A Super Bowl run is exactly what happened. Although the end result wasn’t what they wanted, she couldn’t have asked for a better effort. Clavelle says this past year has taught her that you actually have to work three times harder when you’re at the top of your game. She spent the offseason combing through more film to find the top players that match the 49ers new mission.
The bar is set high again this season with a Super Bowl win on the radar. “We have a new standard and I have to be even smarter about how I do things this year,” Clavelle said. She goes in every day trying to be better for both herself and the team.
“She wants to be a GM,” San Francisco 49ers General Manager John Lynch said with a smile as he spoke at the Women’s Careers in Football Forum in 2019. When I asked if that was true, Clavelle confidently said, “Yes, that is true. My end goal is to be the General Manager."
Clavelle's advice to young Black girls is to keep pushing for what they want. “Don’t allow your circumstances to be an excuse or a reason why you didn’t follow your dreams," she said. "Dare to be different! Fight to break the cycle! Because it starts with you! Step out in faith and let your knowledge and hard work lead you. That’s what I did when I moved away for college, and then across the country to California when I accepted a position with the San Francisco 49ers.”