Blowing the whistle on feminist tokenism in the NFL

Women in sports creating support systems for themselves isn’t as indicative of equitable progress as it may seem.

The National Football League (NFL) has hired more female scouts and assistant coaches in the past decade than ever before. Among those women is Assistant General Manager for the Cleveland Browns Catherine Raîche, and Director of Personnel Operations for the Philadelphia Eagles Ameena Soliman.

Three years ago, Raîche and Soliman created a group chat for female staff at the NFL.

The text thread provides professional support by advertising promotions and fostering mentorships between newer hires and more experienced women. It extends necessary community and solidarity to women working in a predominantly male field.

In an interview with The New York Times, a scout for the New York Giants explained having access to a group of female colleagues through the group chat gave her space to let down her guard.

Policies like the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to grant female applicants equal access to leadership positions, can increase the diversity among staff, while doing little to ensure the comfort or well-being of hires from marginalized communities once they arrive in the workplace.

Professional sports organizations aren’t known for their egalitarian treatment of women.

For years, Canada’s Women’s Soccer team has attempted to negotiate with Soccer Canada for pay comparable to their male counterparts. Though some attribute the disparity between male and female athletes’ salaries to the differences in revenue they generate or even to their level of ability, Canada’s Women’s Soccer team currently ranks higher than its male team ever has.

The prevalence of violence against women is another issue in athletics—particularly in football, which has disproportionately high rates of violence compared to other sports. Between 2000 and 2019, 117 NFL players were arrested for domestic violence and sexual abuse against women.

Between 2021 and 2022, 26 women accused NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual harassment. In March 2022, the Cleveland Browns drafted Watson, and hired Raîche two months later. In her role with the Browns, it falls within Raîche’s job description to comment on Watson’s performance. Promoting an athlete who’s allegedly committed sexual violence could be understandably uncomfortable and isn’t a fair request to make of female employees.

Whether done intentionally or not, it’s easy to see how NFL teams benefit from hiring women in public-facing positions. Seeing a woman engaging with the NFL and its players amidst accusations of sexual violence can validate football fans and teams in forgiving players’ misconduct.

The women’s group chat provides useful scaffolding for more immediately integrating future female employees of the NFL, but won’t be sufficient on its own. The thread having been created by female employees implies the organization isn’t meeting a need for social support that exists amongst its staff.

Hiring women but failing to promote a sense of belonging among their male peers is tokenism.

Support systems created by workers should be an addition to workplace conditions, rather than a reaction to them.

Journal Editorial Board


NFL, sexual violence, tokenism

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