Picture an NFL employee. Chances are, you're imagining a man. Although there are women among the league's approximately 2,000 employees, they're in roles such as legal counsel, medical adviser, and the newly created head of social responsibility. In jobs that actually deal with football, they're nearly nonexistent. The league has one female referee, one female assistant coach, and zero female scouts.
But just because football isn't interested in women doesn't mean women aren't interested in football. Forty-five percent of the game's fans, and a third of its TV audience, is women. In fact, more women watched last year's Super Bowl than the Grammies and Oscars combined.
The league now says it wants to hire women, especially into football-involved jobs. Perhaps that's because of these fan and viewer statistics. Or perhaps it's because of the damaged reputation it suffered after its ultra-light punishment of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. In 2014, Rice hit his fiancée in the face hard enough to knock her unconscious, and was videotaped dragging her limp body out of an elevator. Rice was arrested as a result and eventually sent to a domestic violence diversion program. The NFL's response was to suspend him for two games.
Whatever the reason, major league football is making some effort toward hiring more women, but that effort seems a bit half-hearted. Take the Rooney Rule, for instance. After accusations of racism, the Rooney Rule requires teams in the league to interview minority candidates for head coach and other top positions. This year--13 years after the rule was put in place--it occurred to the league that it should require interviews of female candidates as well. So the league expanded the Rooney Rule to include interviewing women candidates--but only for jobs at the NFL office.
A 'careers forum' is not a job fair.
Next year, the NFL will take another step on the long road to gender equality with a first-ever Women's Careers in Football Forum, to be held in Orlando January 25 to 27. Some media reports are calling the event a "job fair," but it isn't that. In a job fair, recruiters meet and pre-screen candidates for, you know, jobs where they might actually be hired. The NFL apparently doesn't think women are ready to hire yet, so, according to its website, the event will "help educate and prepare women for positions in football operations." The event is being held in conjunction with Pro Bowl Week and the fourth annual Women's World Football Games, which will bring together 250 female tackle football players who presumably would be interested in operations jobs. They might even be ready to apply for some without getting special education first.
Women who attend the event will be entered into the league's Diverse Talent Community, an online community of people seeking NFL jobs. "We aim to introduce more women into the pipeline," Samantha Rapoport, the league's director of football development, explained to The New York Times. "General managers have told us they're interested, but they don't know where to find these women. I will be able to provide candidates for hire through this program."
I'm trying hard not to think about the infamous "binders full of women" Mitt Romney claimed to have assembled so those seeking women for leadership roles could actually find qualified candidates. The introductory video on the Diverse Talent Community site features many, many shots of Sarah Thomas, the league's single female referee. I'm trying very hard not to think the word "token" either.
I'm also trying not to get snippy over the league touting entry into the "invite only" Diverse Talent Community as a special benefit for those attending the event. I was able to sign up for it myself in about two minutes using my LinkedIn profile, no invitation required.
Part of me thinks I should be grateful and amazed. Women in the United States did not get the right to vote until eight years after my father was born. West Point did not admit its first female cadets until the year before I graduated from high school. So the fact that the NFL is hosting female tackle football--for the fourth time--or has even one female assistant head coach is a big step forward, I guess.
On the other hand, come January, there's a strong possibility that this nation will swear in its first female president. And I thought we were many years past gee-whiz-we-got-a-woman-doing-a-traditional-man's-job. I'm very glad the NFL wants to hire more women, at least someday, after it's educated them enough so that they're qualified to work there. But really, it needs to do better.