Sam Rapoport has spent nearly 15 years working in football, a dozen of those years with the National Football League.
But as a student at McGill University in Canada, a professor discouraged the former quarterback from pursuing a career with the NFL.
“A professor I was working with told me that I should probably set my sights a little bit lower and apply for a college program, or something a little bit lower than the NFL,” Rapoport, one of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, recalls in this week’s issue. “I remember looking at him in the eye and saying, ‘I guarantee you I’m going to work for the NFL.’ ”
The Montreal native followed through on her promise, helped by a Hail Mary pass to the NFL’s hiring committee.
“I sent a football with my résumé and wrote, ‘What other quarterback could accurately deliver a football 386 miles?’ ”
The play landed Rapoport a gig as a marketing intern in 2003, where she helped launch the NFL Network. Rapoport continued to work her way up through the league, and left in 2010 to spearhead female football leagues with USA Football. In 2016, the NFL created the director of football development for her, making Rapoport responsible for creating more opportunities for women in football.
“I would love for girls growing up in this country to believe that if they love the sport as much as I do, that they could be a part of it,” she says.
RELATED VIDEO: Jessica Alba, America Ferrera, Maria Shriver & More Successful Women Share The Advice They’d Give To Their Younger Selves
And her efforts have been working. Under Rapoport’s leadership, the Buffalo Bills have hired two female coaches, the Minnestota Vikings added two female scouts and their first female scouting intern, and five women — up from one the previous year — earned the league’s diversity coaching fellowship.
“Our goal is to normalize females on the sidelines,” Rapoport says. “That’s when we’ll know that we’ve scratched the surface and started to achieve something.”
Reporting by MARY GREEN