Breaking into a male-dominated field, especially the sports industry, can be intimidating for females, but these five women are showing us how it's done! There has been a massive shift in the sports industry; today, there are more women employed in the sports business than ever before. Seeing these powerful women doing what they love in a field that they are passionate about is truly inspiring. With exemplary women succeeding in a male-dominated field, young girls know that it is possible to accomplish their goals in the sports industry.
Historically, the NFL has been marketed for men. In a sport played by men, it can be hard for women to feel like they have a voice. These five women have shown people across the world that we do have a voice in football, and it's not going anywhere.
Rapoport joined the NFL in 2003 as a marketing intern. She found that there was hardly any female representation within the league and had a strong desire to change that. In response, Rapoport led the creation of the Women’s Careers and Football Forum (WCFF). Since its founding in 2017, the WCFF has been giving opportunities to women all throughout the company. As of 2020, women make up 38.2% of league-office roles; though this isn’t nearly as high as it should be, it is the highest it has ever been with the help of the WCFF. The forum takes place in February every year and includes discussions and panels from the league’s higher-ups. The WCFF is an invite-only event that prepares women for a professional, full-time job within the National Football League. Rapoport, who is now one of the NFL’s senior directors of diversity, is a driving reason as to why so many women are working within the football industry.
Earlier this year, Jennifer King was hired as an assistant running backs coach for the Washington Football Team, making her the first Black woman to serve as a full-time head coach. King is one of 12 women on the field coaching this season (the most in history, by the way). She had, like Rapoport, previously been involved in the WFCC. King has worked for professional football teams for four years, three of which as an intern (she previously interned at the Carolina Panthers before transferring to the Washington Football Team) and one as an assistant coach. Every game where Jennifer King is on the field is making history.
On the subject of bada** women coaches, Locust made history as the first woman coach to win the Super Bowl when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV in February of 2021. The assistant defensive line coach is in her third season with the team and has helped coach one of the best defensive lines in the league. Locust started out as an assistant defensive line coach for a smaller team in the Alliance of American football and interned for the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff in 2018. Before starting her coaching career, Locust was invited to the WFCC in 2017 and since then has been helping to connect women coaching candidates with employed coaches and NFL executives.
Kim Pegula is the president and CEO of Pegula Sports, a company that owns five professional sports teams in the Buffalo area, including the Buffalo Bills. She is also involved in the NFL’s Super Bowl and Major Events Advisory board, Business Ventures Committee, the NFL Foundation Committee, and the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee. On top of that, Pegula is the first woman to own both an NFL and NHL franchise. She is a huge advocate for women in the sports business and is a frequent speaker at the WCFF. In April 2021, Pegula spoke to Syracuse University’s TWN Chapter for their Women in the Sports Industry Week, an event that received a lot of excitement. It was on this panel where I truly recognized that it was possible for me to achieve my dreams of being successful in the sports business. She gave great tips on breaking into the business and acknowledged the importance of female representation within football.
Sarah Thomas is the first female full-time referee in NFL history. Hired in 2015, she has paved the way for other female referees. Thomas started out by officiating college football games in 2007, making history as the first woman to officiate a major college game and the first woman to officiate a college bowl game. In 2013, Thomas was made a finalist in the NFL’s officiating development program. She started out by officiating preseason games and was then hired as a full-time line judge. Thomas made history again in 2021 by being the first woman to officiate a super bowl when she was listed as a down judge for Super Bowl LV. Though Thomas was joined by the incredible Maia Chaka, the first black female officiant, Thomas was a trailblazer as the first full-time referee in NFL history.
As someone who wants to go into the sports business, I am no-doubt intimidated by the large male presence in the field. But I’ll try to follow by example, as these women have inspired me and given me new goals to strive for and accomplish one day. Let’s bring women into power in the sports industry!