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Sam Rapoport alongside NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at a co-ed flag football event. (twitter.com)

In conversation with NFL Director of Football Development Samantha Rapoport

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“I’ve always known I wanted to work for the NFL,” Samantha Rapoport said. “It was a dream of mine since I was young.”

Rapoport, a McGill alumni, is the NFL Director of Football Development, a position tasked with developing the game in order to connect qualified people with NFL jobs. Born in Vancouver, Rapoport isn’t a typical candidate for a high ranking position within the league. Her position was previously occupied by former Baltimore Raven Matt Birk.

In her second year studying kinesiology at McGill, Rapoport tried to get a job in the NFL. After getting rejected, she decided to get creative and re-apply.

“[I] thought about how to stand out as a female from Canada with no connections to the NFL, other than that I just loved playing,” Rapoport said. “I kind of came up with a creative way to apply, [I literally] wrote something on a football and that’s how I obtained my first internship and then I went up from there.”

Rapoport’s father sparked her interest in Football. He was a die hard Dolphins fan and a quarterback on the McGill Redmen.

“My dad […] had two girls so he didn’t think we would become interested in football,” Rapoport said. “But he always says there’s a football gene and it must have gotten passed down to me.”

From a young age Rapoport played girls flag football before playing tackle football in her later years. Her successful sporting career eventually led to national honours.

“I played for the Montreal Blitz–the female tackle football team in Montreal,” Rapoport said. “I also played a flag football team since I was 12 years old. I played as quarterback for Team Canada and have just been so heavily involved in football […] so I wanted to stay on the football side of the business if I could.”

Over the years, Rapoport has worked extensively in developing youth and girls flag football programs. Between 2010 and 2016 she worked for USA Football where she oversaw youth engagement programs as well as the creation of the USAF-NFL Girls Football Program. In 2009, she won the NFL Commissioner’s Award for Innovation for developing a leadership program that enabled girls to start flag football programs at their schools.

Now, as the Director of Football Development, Rapoport has a mandate to connect qualified women with NFL jobs. She has had a positive experience with the NFL and wants to extend that experience to other women.

“This is my 14th NFL season and I honestly mean this, I have never experienced any feeling of not feeling welcome,” Rapoport said.

She is determined to break down perceptions of football as an exclusively male sport.

“The first step is to show them visually that females can fill these positions and that they have power in sport,” Rapoport said. “The second step is changing the culture of the hiring managers within the organization to show them that females can be very successful and explain to the them the benefits of having gender diversity within your organization.”

According to Rapoport, the NFL wants to encourage gender diversity.

“We are going to identify, train, develop and connect qualified women to the NFL so people stop thinking it’s an ‘old boys network,’” Rapoport commented. “Men in the industry are generally very open to the idea, it’s just that a lot of our head coaches are very busy guys and they just don’t know where to find these females.”

Rapoport believes the central issue with the lack of female representation in the industry stems from a shortage of interested and eligible women in close contact with leading NFL figures.

“We recognize that a lot of jobs across the board are all procured from informal social networks,” Rapoport explained. “A lot of the time it’s who you know […] it’s easy to just pick someone who looks like you.”

Alongside her mission to promote gender equality in the NFL, Rapoport will also be working to ensure equitable minority hiring practices in the NFL. The NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2002, which required that all NFL teams have to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions. Recently, the policy has been criticized for producing modest increases in non-white head coaches since its inception.

“I think we’ve made waves,” Rapoport said. “There’s a debate about whether or not the Rooney Rule has been successful and I would say it has been successful [.…] I think our numbers can be better and that’s why we are dedicating this much programming to helping achieve higher numbers as far as minorities are concerned at the head coach, general manager, and other coach levels.”

Rapoport believes she is well positioned to give back to a game that has given her so much.

“I’ve always been in love with the sport and still am,” Rapoport stated. “I just knew that it’s what I was put on this planet to do. I was put here to help make the game better and stronger, so I’m really lucky to be in the position I find myself in now.”

If Rapoport’s mission is successful and more women join the NFL ranks, the future is bright for the sport. While it may seem unlikely today, having a woman calling the shots from the sideline might soon become a reality.

“I will be very excited to celebrate the first female head coach,” Rapoport said. “I believe we can achieve that in our lifetime.”

 

Favourite NFL team: “I grew up with a father who was a Dolphins’ fan and I was a Cowboys’ fan.

Favourite quarterback: “Troy Aikman. I got to work with him on an event […] and I had to pinch myself pretty hard.”

Favourite McGill professor: “Donald Taylor. He was a Social-psychology professor and always referenced so many interesting studies. So many of his theories stuck with me and I constantly find myself referencing them.”

Favourite study spot: “Second Cup on Parc, the library was too quiet for me.”

Montreal deli fan or New York deli fan: “100% Montreal deli, Montreal bagels [too.] I’ve been [in New York] for 14 years or so but I will never get used to New York bagels. Montreal is the best to me!”

 

 

A former version of this article incorrectly stated that Sam Rapoport had worked for USA Football between 2010 and 2013. She worked for USA Football from 2010 to 2016. The Tribune regrets this error.

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