Tackling expectations: Park Sloper connecting women to NFL jobs

Smashing stereotypes: Park Slope resident Samantha Rapoport is in her first season as the National Football League’s director of football development, working to help hire more female coaches, scouts, and front office personnel.
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She’s got game and, now she’s making sure other women do too.

Park Slope resident Samantha Rapoport — a former professional tackle football player in Canada — was named the National Football League’s director of football development earlier this year. And, a few weeks into her inaugural season, Rapoport is doing her best to address the league’s lack of women in coaching and scouting roles.

“My job really is to create a pipeline and development process for females looking to get into the football side of the business — coaching, scouting, officiating, and athletic-training roles,” Rapoport said. “I’ve known I wanted to work for the NFL since I was really young, probably high-school age. All I wanted to do was work for the NFL. I am absolutely enamored with the sport, and I have been since a young game.”

Opportunities for women and minorities have been a league-wide focus for years, but it wasn’t until last year that commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league had interviewed a woman for every open managerial position.

And it’s Rapoport’s job to make sure that there are women to be interviewed.

“We’ve focused on general managers in the [league], and they’re all open to it,” Rapoport said. “They just have a hard time finding female candidates. That’s a role that I can play — introducing them, developing them, training them, and connecting. That’s the kind of missing piece right now.”

Rapoport said the biggest issue this season is combating the age-old idea that women don’t belong in the league simply because they don’t play in the league.

She’s determined, however, to change that. Rapoport may be one of the most experienced female football players around, she’s certain that playing the game is not necessary to understand it.

“We have a lot of coaches that haven’t played or scouts that haven’t played,” Rapoport said. “I think people don’t know of the females in this country who are very well-versed in football or have extensive backgrounds in both playing and administering the sport. So my job is to really connect both of those worlds and connect those females with the sport.”

As of this season, 30 percent of the league’s front-office employees are women. However, football operations jobs are an entirely different story. Sarah Thomas became the first woman hired as a full-time referee last year, and Kathryn Smith was named a quality-control coach for the Bills.

Rapoport knows she can add more names to that list. She’s connected to a large network of qualified women and has plans for two recruiting events this year — including a forum at the Pro Bowl.

Rapoport’s job isn’t easy. She knows there will be plenty of detractors and critics, but hers is the perfect job for someone who has dreamed of working in the league. And, she knows that — sooner rather than later — women and football are going to be the norm.

“We don’t want it to be, ‘Well, if she succeeds, then women belong,’ ” Rapoport said. “No one wants that correlation, so we need to filter more women into the pipeline so it becomes more commonplace. Then we can really start to shift the culture.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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