As a little girl growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mickey Grace always believed she could do whatever she put her mind to.
Gender roles weren’t really a thing in her family. She played a wide range of sports growing up, including tennis. Naturally competitive, there was a time where tennis filled that aspect of her life.
Her family couldn’t afford to send her to many tournaments, but Grace says she always showed up with her hand-me-down racket and a pair of “Chucks” ready to play. Grace was just grateful to have the opportunity, and immense gratitude is something she carried with her into her adult life.
Once she got to high school, it was game on. Grace wanted to play every sport that was available to her at Germantown High in Philadelphia. After starting the new school year, she found out that the only option she had for the Fall semester was football.
“I knew I had to play football or nothing at all. Not playing a sport wasn’t an option.” Grace said.
She didn’t want go home after school and football gave her an outlet. Grace made the decision to try out for the team and she made it.
“I originally told my parents I was the Team Manager but when the actual season started, I needed cleats so I had to be honest with them about it. I didn’t know how they were going to react,” Grace explained.
One lesson she has learned throughout her football journey is that the people around you will make space for something if you’re intentional and make the space for it first. Being confident and up front about wanting to play football made her parents more open to the idea. So off she went!
After graduation, Grace’s high school which she described as “home” for so many, was closed down due to the Philadelphia budget cuts. During that time, 23 public schools were shut down, primarily in minority and low income neighborhoods.
“They combined our school with our rival school which was a tough transition,” Grace said. “While I was in college, I went back to volunteer. I would drive 45 minutes so that I could help bridge the gap between the players and the staff.”
Although she was consistently working with the team, it took her two years to consider herself a coach.
“It just wasn’t in my brain. I kept saying ‘I’m just helping out,’” Grace said. “Modesty and humility were preventing me from opening this door of opportunities for myself.”
Once that realization hit, Grace started calling herself Coach. She began taking every opportunity she could to get better, whether that be by coaching football camps, volunteering or just getting in front of those that she could learn from.
Grace currently works as a Math and leadership teacher at Mastery Charter North High School in Philadelphia during the day and a Defensive Line Coach once the school day is over. Many of the players she coaches come from difficult backgrounds, so she is very intentional in the way she coaches them.
She knows that giving them anything less than 100% would be a disservice to their lives. She was recently chosen to be part of the Scouting Apprenticeship Program with the Los Angeles Rams.
“We should do our part in helping those men and women thrive at their next chapter,” Rams general manager Les Snead said about the program. “And then that should pay dividends down the road.”
When you talk to her, you quickly understand how she is able to juggle her many roles. Grace is a leader by nature. While pushing through everything that comes with creating a path for herself as a Black woman, what inspires her the most is being a single mom to her daughter. Everything she’s working towards is to create a life for her.
“Motherhood has been tough but rewarding. I just keep falling forward and learning as I go,” Grace said. Her daughter has grown up around football and doesn’t understand why everyone can’t play. “She’s confused when people don’t play football. We recently played a family game and she scored her first touchdown. She loves it.”
In June of 2020, Maryland head coach Mike Locksley formed the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches to help increase minority hiring in all aspects of football. He immediately asked Grace to be on the Executive Committee. She’s currently serving as the only woman on the Executive Board, a responsibility she takes very seriously.
“This is the first coalition that I have seen really prepare you to go in on the development aspect of coaching. No one taught me how to play. I really had to go figure it out on my own. Coaching was very similar. As a family, we didn’t know anyone that my dad could just call to help me out. It was something I really just had to figure out and I remember having no idea where to start.”
The idea that there can’t be more Black Head coaches if there aren’t more Black coordinators is what the coalition is founded upon. The NCMFC works to remove any societal roadblocks and level the playing field for minority football coaches. Through professional training and educational programs, the NCMFC works to prepare its coaches for greater success.
Grace was also invited to attend the Women’s Careers in Football Forum that’s hosted every year by the NFL in coordination with the NFL Combine.
“The Women’s Forum and the Coalition of Minority Coaches formed the intersection that I live my life on. As a Black woman, you get overlooked but now, I have a pathway to follow my passion,” Grace explained.
Through the opportunities she has worked so hard for, Grace has been able to get in front of people she wouldn’t typically have the opportunity to meet otherwise. She was previously an intern for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in August, the Rams asked her to be a Scouting Apprentice.
Throughout the year, the scouting apprentices work with Rams advisors and football operations personnel to expand their scouting skills, gain insight into the scouting profession and also be active participants in the team's scouting processes. Grace said she’s loving every second of it. “It’s been amazing,” she said. “The resources they provide are phenomenal. My life was so different just a year ago from what it is now. I worked really hard but there was a moment of being a Black woman where no part of this game was meant for me. The Rams are giving minorities a pathway to learn the scouting department. They’re so open and interested to bridge the gaps.”
Grace and other women working in the NFL hold regular zoom calls to help mentor young women looking to get their foot in the door. Grace said she knows there are little girls in Philly looking to take this path and it inspires her to keep pushing.
“This is what God put me on this planet to do,” Grace said. “I know this is the vehicle to fulfill my purpose and I know I have to make this thing work. By shining my light I give others permission to shine theirs too.”