revolution of the game (part one): Eligible receivers
the first of a series of articles on trailblazer
sam rapoport, nfl director of development (and also painter)
eligible receivers by Sam Desmond
When ultimate Queen Bee Regina George finally finds her positive outlet for her unrelenting competitive nature, she meets her equals not in the legions of wanna-be’s who mirror her every fashionable move, but with the girls’ field hockey team, who aren’t “afraid of her.” Mean Girls, Tina Fey’s outlandish, but painfully accurate teen romp about the savage, passive-aggressiveness of adolescent girls was both a reflective moment and cautionary tale for my generation of women and a mindset that Sam Rapoport, Director of Football Development for the NFL is brilliantly working towards dismantling through the dignity of sports. Ironically, tackle football, often viewed as the apex of “masculinity,” has proven a key solution to addressing and silencing the insecurities and maladaptive social behaviors plaguing girls in school and ultimately as women balancing work, motherhood, and relationships.
Coming to her position as Director earlier this year, Rapoport was already the fundamental role model and spokeswoman, having played tackle football professionally (unsurprisingly in the leadership role of quarterback for the Montreal Blitz) and previously serving USA Football (a governing body for the development of coaches and safety initiatives) from 2010 to 2016. Her experience personally lay the groundwork for her current professional role as the NFL’s Director of Football Development where she is developing the pipeline for females in Football Operations positions.
In her previous experience, with football phenoms like Sam Gordon in Utah (a nine-year-old who dominated in 2012 while playing against boys twice her size, scoring 25 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 rushing yards) as a prime example of female athleticism deserving proper cultivation, Rapoport said, “Witnessing young girls discover the power inside themselves while playing football is the most rewarding aspect of my role at the NFL. Girls who were previously reticent, had body-image issues, bullied even, walking proudly on and especially off the field is what drives my work.”
When asked about what uniquely qualifies football in this pivotal role of confidence for young women, Rapoport commented, “It’s the definitive team sport. There’s no breakaway, no solitary homerun record, no foul shot. A touchdown. A field goal. Any score is a team effort and requires all eleven players to work together. There’s also a position for every body type, every athletic ability, and the game is a symphony of all that talent held together and showcased by the mutual respect of the players for each other’s unique, but equally important, roles.”
The camaraderie, often described as a brotherhood by the men who’ve played, is correspondingly powerful for women who don the helmets. Even before strapping on cleats, girls often have to rally together and petition athletic directors to allow for a female football team at their school since the sport has only recently made its appearance on the roster alongside more traditional sports for girls like softball. But all of this is part of the bigger picture according to Rapoport, whose supreme vision for girls’ football is to see it became an NCAA sport, “In a game like softball, you see the adaptations made---smaller diamond, larger ball, distance to pitch---for female players and you see how exciting a sport it is. Football can also be adapted to be a better platform for showcasing women’s abilities to increase viewership.”
When asked about her own striking athletic career and how she sustained her passion for the sport, Rapoport cited her family, especially her father’s unflinching constancy, driving thirteen hours in one direction to watch her play, as the added external motivation.
“At the NFL, we want to show that type of undying steadfastness to all players of football---especially the newest in flag, women, and girls---because it’s a staggeringly egalitarian game.
There’s no room for an inflated ego, but also no chance for team success without personal courage, determination, and belief in self-worth.”