Women Leading the Way in the NFL
Throughout the United States, the home of American Football, there is a preconceived notion that football is a “men's” game. Women are rarely welcomed into the world of sports, but especially football, which is one of the only major professional sports leagues without a women’s counterpart. Over the past few decades and particularly within the last few years, women have been fighting back and standing their ground not only as just fans of the game, but as influential leaders in the industry as well. Whether that be at the corporate level representing the NFL, or on the field at a middle school Pop Warner game, girls of all ages are suiting up to change the world of football.
Here are five women who are changing the roles women play in the highest level of football, according to the NFL’s Influential women in football:
Beth Mowins: Most of the time when we’re watching a televised football game, the commentators we hear in the background are men. Beth Mowins became the first woman to call a nationally televised regular season NFL game on September 11, 2016 during a Broncos v Chargers game.
Sarah Thomas: In 2015, Sarah Thomas was hired full-time as the first female official in the NFL, and is also the first woman to be given an assignment on-field for the playoffs. Thomas worked her way up from officiating at youth games to high school and college games, and was eventually was brought up to officiate during the preseason as part of the league development program in 2013.
Kathryn Smith: The Buffalo Bills became the first team in NFL history to have a woman named to a full-time coaching position. Smith started at the bottom as a game-day intern for the New York Jets, working her way up to college scouting intern and player personnel assistant. In 2015 she became the Bills administrative assistant for head coach Rex Ryan, and was promoted a year later to quality control special teams coach for the Bills.
Katie Blackburn: The daughter of Bengals’ team owner Mike Brown, Blackburn became the first female chief contract negotiator in the NFL while working in the team's front office. She also holds positions on the workplace diversity committee, the CBA player benefit plans committee, and the Super Bowl advisory committee.
Amy Trask: The first female CEO of an NFL team was Amy Trask, who earned the title in 1997 for the Oakland Raiders and held it until 2013. Similar to Smith, she began her NFL career in lower positions and worked her way to the top. She was hired as an intern for the Raiders in college and was later hired as a member of the legal department in 1987. Even after leaving her CEO position, she maintains a reputation in the football world as an analyst for CBS Sports, is Chairman of the Board for a 3-on-3 basketball league, and is the author of a book reflecting on her time in the NFL.
The NFL has begun to recognize the impact women can have on the game and within the industry, and has started hosting a yearly forum for Women’s Careers in Football. Through this program, there were 26 opportunities given to women to work in professional football in the 2017-2018 season across 9 NFL clubs, 6 colleges and universities, and 3 Alliance of American Football teams. At the WCF forum, NFL Senior Director of Football Development Samantha Rapoport said about the program, “Women are vastly underrepresented in operations positions in sports. Our clubs understand the value of considering the entire talent pool during the hiring process. This program provides the opportunity for our teams to meet with driven and experienced women who have a strong desire to work in football and we’re proud of the progress we’ve seen in three years.”