The NFL revealed its game plan for the future this past Wednesday and Thursday at the fifth annual "Women’s Careers in Football Forum.”
The league built a virtual bridge for 40 women—75 percent of whom were women of color—with the goal of connecting them to leaders in the areas of coaching, scouting and football operations.
X’s and O’s were replaced on the screen by the presence of NFL Commissioner and event moderator Roger Goodell, his wife Jane Skinner Goodell, Lions principal owner Sheila Ford Hamp, Cleveland Browns co-owner Dee Haslam and Sam Rapoport, who holds the position of senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the league office. Rapoport was also the visionary behind this event.
Rapoport offered both words of encouragement and a prediction that in 15 years, the forum participants would be reminiscing about the two-day event when they are running the sport.
“Our mission is to normalize women in football positions in the NFL,” Rapoport shared with SI All Lions, courtesy of Kelsey Boyd, the public affairs coordinator at the NFL league office. “In the past five years, we’ve planted a seed in this space, and we’ve celebrated many firsts. But, we have a long way to go to knock out many more firsts, so we can get closer to our goal of normalization.”
The league is currently searching for female candidates for this “invite-only” forum in 2022, according to Rapoport.
She shared she has been told that “100 percent of the resumes” teams have been receiving are from male candidates, and she encouraged women to apply with teams for the same positions (coaching, scouting, etc.).
“If you don’t go for it, you’re not going to get the job,” Rapoport added.
NFL coaching pioneers in Washington’s Jennifer King, Cleveland’s Callie Brownson and Tampa Bay’s Lori Locust also took turns in offering inspiring accounts of their own journeys.
Locust is fresh off her team’s victory in Super Bowl LV, during which she served as the assistant defensive line coach and helped shut down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs' high-powered offense.
The forum additionally featured the aforementioned Hamp and Haslam. Both made themselves available in an hour-long Q&A with participants, giving them the rare opportunity to gain insights from the ownership level.
Hamp candidly recalled her humble beginnings during the forum.
“When I graduated from college, all I wanted to do was go work for the NFL. I loved football, I grew up with it. And, I actually knew that the commissioner at the time was Pete Rozelle," Hamp said. "My dad [William Clay Ford Sr.] had taken me to a couple of league meetings, and I had the opportunity to sit next to him at dinner. We kind of became friends, and we communicated. He was impressed how much a girl knew about football at the time. When I graduated, I went to see him because that was my dream—to work for the NFL. And he really tried. I know he tried because he liked me. But, he couldn’t think of one thing, nothing that a woman could do in the NFL.”
In an exclusive statement prepared for SI All Lions, Hamp further stated,
“The NFL has come a long way in regards to its efforts for establishing diversity and inclusion, both at the league office and across the 32 clubs. My story about my interaction with Pete Rozelle was meant to highlight just that, and the Women’s Career Forum is an example of the great work being done. I greatly enjoyed speaking with Dee Haslam, and was impressed by the questions we received from so many participants. From Gina Newell, to Jessica Larmony, to Shelby Hawk, to Katherine Hopkins -- all four of these women play key roles in our football operation. I am honored to work alongside them and carry out a legacy left by my mother, who continues to serve as a role model for me. We look forward to expanding our opportunities for women here at the Lions and being a leading voice for this important movement.”
Hamp’s invaluable words, along with the united front shown by several key leaders, left absolutely no doubt that the Lions—as well as the National Football League—plan on handing off even more coaching, scouting and football operations opportunities to women going forward.