NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced today at the Women's Summit at Super Bowl 50, that the NFL will create a rule similar to the Rooney Rule to require all NFL teams to interview at least one woman for executive position openings on their staff.
This is a great step forward for women striving to reach the highest level in the NFL and fill roles they're more than capable of serving in. Look no further than the Bengals' front office where Katie Blackburn is leading the charge and helped the Bengals to become and now remain as, one of the best and most competitive teams in the league. Blackburn, the daughter of Bengals owner Mike Brown, serves as the team's Executive Vice President and is responsible for much of the contract negotiations and behind the scenes work for the team.
In a 2012 article from bizjournals.com, Blackburn expressed her passion for the NFL and city of Cincinnati. "I love what I do, and I love Cincinnati," she said. "I just feel like I'm in a great spot in being able to play a role in the city where I live. To me, it's a great place to be."
Like many other women who will now be given their shot at an executive role in the NFL, Blackburn is more than qualified to perform her job and isn't simply working in the Bengals' front office due to her family connection -- though that certainly helped. Blackburn majored in math and economics at Dartmouth College and graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
"I love sports and particularly football," Blackburn said. "The history of my grandfather in football is special, and I know how my dad desired to keep my grandfather in the game by starting the Cincinnati Bengals. The family's involvement since the beginning of the franchise, in something that can be a great part of life for everyone in Cincinnati, is something I am proud to be a part of."
While it would be nice if NFL teams simply saw the value in adding women to their front offices without being required to interview them, this new rule is forward progress for the league and should give more women the opportunity to climb up the NFL ranks.
"We believe in diversity," Goodell said during the Women's Summit. "We believe we're better as an organization when we have good people at the table. We have great people at the table... We're also seeing it on the field. Sarah Thomas, Sarah's right here. Sarah was our first NFL female official on the field this year. Sarah, congratulations. And she did a fantastic job, and we're very proud of her. We also have people breaking into coaching ranks. I don't know if Jen is here, is Jen here? Jen's right next to her. Jen (Welter) is the first coach last year in the NFL. And she set a trend, we now have a second coach of the Buffalo Bills, a female coach (Kathryn Smith)."
As Goodell referenced, the league has progressed in getting women involved in officiating and coaching and Smith serving as the first full time coach in the NFL is great for women and girls who have dreams of working in the league. Thomas, Welter and Smith all serve and will continue even more to serve as role models for thousands of girls around the country.
In announcing the news of this rule change, Goodell said, "You can see that progress is being made. Our commitment is we have something called the Rooney Rule, which requires us to make sure when we have an opening, that on the team or the league level, that we are going to interview a diverse slate of candidates. Well we're going to make that commitment and we're going to formalize that we, as a league, are going to do that with women as well in all of our executive positions. Again, we're going to keep making progress here and make a difference."
In that 2012 article, Blackburn said, "Many sports teams are really fairly small companies, so finding an opportunity can be the most difficult part." The same holds true today, but this new rule is one step in the right direction to make it easier for women to break into the league. During a time when Goodell gets highly criticized for just about every decision he makes, this should be decision that receives no flak.
Maybe one day, we won't need a rule to get NFL teams to interview women for executive roles, but until then, this is a good move for the league.