There is one question I have been asked countless times throughout the years:
When do you think there will be a woman in a general manager role in the NFL?
Our league has taken strides to become more diverse and inclusive. Women now hold many roles in the NFL -- from the top down, among its 32 teams -- but there is still a long way to go.
In my time working in the NFL, I have encountered several women who would have made strong general managers. Unfortunately, I have also seen how women can be sidelined from this career path, with their roles unfairly minimized by titles that diminish their value, even when they are performing jobs that are equivalent to those executed by men with more prestigious titles. Consider Kim Ng, who rose to become the first woman in a general manager role in any of the four major American professional sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) and built a playoff roster for the Miami Marlins in 2023. The team could have created the conditions for her to continue flourishing. Instead, she apparently was not given the leeway to enact her vision for the organization's future and chose to part ways with the Marlins.
My answer to the question above is always the same: The NFL already should have had a woman GM. Dawn Aponte has more than three decades of experience and is currently the NFL's Chief Football Administrative Officer. Her lengthy résumé, work ethic and drive make her more than qualified. Everyone saw Dawn run point and handle an incredibly difficult situation last January in Cincinnati, when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field. Not only did she demonstrate the capability and strength to lead in that critical moment, but she was part of a leadership group that made sound decisions in the worst of circumstances under a prime-time spotlight. She and the leadership team reminded the football world about the importance of judicious decision-making and empathy. There was no one better to handle that situation.
Pursuing her professional goals while having and raising four children with her husband, Kevin, Dawn never took the elevator. She always took the stairs. Just consider this piece of advice she says she received early in her career that has helped guide her journey.
"Your job is 8 to 6. You build your career before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m.," she told me in a recent conversation we had about her career path. "I took that to heart, and [that's] why I spent nights and weekends staying in the facility to do research projects, FedEx or fax paperwork, pick up dinner, type contract language or whatever else needed to be done."
Dawn began her career with the New York Jets in 1991 as a summer intern, a role she served in until 1993; in 1994, she was hired full time as a staff accountant. Early on in her time with the Jets, she told a team executive that she eventually wanted to work on the football side of the organization. He chuckled while responding, "That's cute, but you know women working on the football side is just not culturally acceptable."
In her words, the remark was a "pivotal moment and driving force for the next several decades to follow," making her realize that no one should place limits on or define what you "can or cannot do."
"It was one of the primary reasons as to why I got my CPA and then went on to get an MBA and a law degree: to ensure that I was not going to be passed over due to the fact that I didn't have equivalent or better paper credentials than any other (male) candidate," said Dawn, whom I first met in 1997 when I was hired by the Jets. "I wanted to be able to distinguish myself in any way possible -- which also meant learning and understanding the game of football, the player evaluation process, salary cap, etc. Talking to football folks that were willing to teach me was one of the most valuable ways to do that."
Dawn continued to rise through the ranks within the Jets organization: She served as staff accountant (1994-2001), manager/salary cap analyst (2001-04), director of football administration (2004-05) and senior director of football administration (2005-06). She then left to work in the league office as director of labor finance before being promoted to a VP position. Dawn then went back to the club level, where she served as VP of football administration for the Cleveland Browns (2009-2010) before joining the Miami Dolphins as SVP of football operations (2010-12) and EVP of football administration (2012-16).
She has no shortage of experience, but you'll notice that many of Dawn's titles include the word "administration" rather than "operations." The one instance where Dawn had "operations" in her title was when she worked for Bill Parcells in Miami. Dawn recalls him telling her, "I identify people I think can help us win, and that's why I'm hiring you." After Parcells' departure from Miami, Dawn was promoted to EVP of football administration.
Aponte still should be considered -- and, eventually, hired -- for a role as an NFL GM. There are several notable women in high-ranking positions across the league's 32 teams with whom you are likely familiar, including Catherine Raiche (the Cleveland Browns' assistant general manager and vice president of football operations who interviewed for the Minnesota Vikings' GM position in 2022), Kelly Kleine (the Denver Broncos' executive director of football operations/special advisor to the general manager) and Jacqueline Davidson (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' vice president of football research).
Which other women in the NFL have the potential to develop into possible GM candidates down the road? Here are three more names to know:
Hannah Burnett, New York Giants college area scout: Burnett is in her fourth season as an area scout with the Giants. Prior to joining New York, Burnett was with the Atlanta Falcons, first serving as a scouting coordinator and then a scouting assistant. I hired her for that entry-level position when I was Atlanta's assistant GM, and I watched her improve and dedicate herself to learning the evaluation process in order to achieve her goal of becoming a scout. Burnett also spent time as a player personnel assistant at the league office.
Kasia Omilian, Indianapolis Colts NFS scout: Omilian is in her second season as a National Football Scouting scout with the Colts. Prior to that role, she served as a football operations intern with the Colts (2019-2020) and interned in the football operations department with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the summers of 2017 and '18.
Ameena Soliman, Philadelphia Eagles director of personnel operations/pro scout: Soliman is in her sixth year with the Philadelphia Eagles and her second in her current role. Since originally joining the organization as an intern in 2018, Soliman has worked as a player personnel coordinator (2019-2020) for the team and as a pro scout (2021). Prior to joining the Eagles, Soliman worked as a player personnel assistant with the NFL league office (2017-18) after serving as a football operations and recruiting graduate assistant with Temple University.
Scott Pioli has decades of experience building NFL teams. He made five trips to the Super Bowl as an executive, winning three championships as a member of the New England Patriots' front office. In addition to being a five-time NFL Executive of the Year, Pioli is on the Board of Trustees of the Women's Sports Foundation (founded by Billie Jean King) and serves as an advisor to Women Leaders in Sports CEO Patti Phillips. He also sits on the board of the Black College Football Hall of Fame and is a founding member of the NFL's Bill Walsh Diversity Council.