Football has been a male-dominated sport since its inception in the 19th century. Lately, however, women have finally been given chances to prove themselves as well — from place kicker Sarah Fuller getting some in-game action at Vanderbilt last year, to Heather Marini being hired as the first female position coach in football history, to Sarah Thomas becoming the first woman to officiate in a Super Bowl earlier this year.
In order to advance women’s chances in the game, the NFL introduced the Women’s Careers in Football Forum in 2017. The Forum, which “has served to help develop a more diverse talent pipeline by connecting high-potential women to career opportunities in football” per its own description, is heading into its fifth year now.
A total of 40 women — three-fourths of whom women of color — will connect with some of the most prominent people in the sport between February 24 and February 25. The goal is to help them network and build relationships in diverse areas such as coaching, scouting and football operations.
Among the speakers featured at the event are also a number of high-ranking coaches and executives. One of them is New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who will address the attendees on the second day of the Forum.
Even though Belichick’s team currently has no women on its coaching staff, the longest-tenured employee within New England’s football operations is female: director of scouting administration Nancy Meier joined the organization in 1975, and is among a small group of people to have earned six Super Bowl rings with the Patriots.
Belichick, meanwhile, is one of seven head coaches that will be featured at the virtual event. The others are Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills), Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins), Robert Saleh (New York Jets), Bruce Arians (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans) and Ron Rivera (Washington Football Team). Flores and Vrabel have spent considerable time working in New England alongside Belichick as well.
Seven general managers and three franchise (co-)owners will furthermore also participate, as will NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s chief football administrative officer, Dawn Aponte.
Over the past four years, advancement programs such as the Women’s Careers in Football Forum have created 118 opportunities for women in football. Those opportunities range from scouting and personnel work to actual coaching: in 2019, Lori Locust became the first female positional coach in the NFL; she is currently serving as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ assistant defensive line coach.