revolution of the game (Part 2): The Twelfth Man
the second of a series of articles on trailblazer
sam rapoport, nfl director of football development
the twelfth man
by Sam Desmond
As the biggest New York sports fan (well, not the Mets and the Islanders…), my dad wanted nothing more than his child to be an athlete. Of course as fate would have it, he was bestowed two daughters, a bookworm and a fashion plate (thankfully my brother came along and played baseball from infancy to varsity). But despite preferring Shakespeare to softball, my dad still “coached” me to be best in the field I was passionate about. My training drills involved reading multiple newspapers so we could debate current events. My dad never let me parrot back his thoughts and insisted I “own what I say” through battle-tested research and honed logical sparring. In a way, my dad was an “accidental feminist.” After years of going head-to-head with him in serious discussion, I never even considered that my intellectual capability was less than that of a man because I had always had my father’s respect and the opportunity to earn more of it as I grew stronger.
When asked about the trailblazing idea of women playing football, a quarterback since the age twelve, Sam Rapoport almost seemed perplexed at what the fuss was all about, “My dad played as a QB. When he put a football in my hands, I fell in love with the game. My dad shared that passion for football with me as an athlete who excelled in the game, never with reticence in playing a ‘boys’ sport.” An orthodontist, Rapoport’s father drove to all of her professional games---even one thirteen hours away---and carried a manila folder to show to co-workers and patients his treasured clippings of her as a player and eventually as an intern of the NFL.
When Rapoport’s father passed unexpectedly four years ago, the loss serendipitously helped her discover another strong interest (and not one normally associated with football players)---painting. A fan of the abstract, Rapoport’s pieces still harken to the game she loves---the brushstrokes give a sense of dignified order (the standard gridiron), but the colors evoke frenetic energy (the unpredictable outcomes of the game). “There’s something about the process of painting that is just soothing to me. It’s a way of dealing with the unexpected and working through the hardship.”
Newly engaged to Becca Gitlitz (another amazing trailblazer, stay tuned to HiConcept for her profile!), Rapoport is captivated by her future wife with all smiles. “When I think of my Dad, I think of how he was a total football nut like me. He loved Dan Marino. He couldn’t wait for me to go into tackle football. He is the reason for this great love I have for the game. Becca, brilliantly creative and abundantly successful, gave me the push and the support I needed to manifest that great love of football into a position where I could help others realize the same passion for the game.”
In her pivotal role as Director of Development at the NFL, Rapoport’s childhood ebullience and life’s work in bringing forth the game of football to women is coming full circle with her treasured Sunday afternoons next to her dad watching games as she spearheads the initiative to recruit more women into the NFL. An organic move in the organization, Rapoport, with the full, enthusiastic backing of the NFL’s highest authorities, will host symposiums and forums to bridge the gap for women in football (i.e. coaches, trainers) to make the unbound leap into the professional arena. “When Jane McManus’ ESPN article broke in September, I had over 300 women contact me from around the country genuinely and happily surprised at how willing the NFL was to accept women into the game. There’s a fallacy prevalent with women in high school and college football that their presence on a professional team would be disruptive, but I can say whole-heartedly that the NFL respects talent. And we’re incredibly cognizant of that talent being abundant in women.”