Women fighting for NFL careers in a league dominated by men

As tens of millions of people tune in to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, nearly half the viewers are expected to be female. The NFL struggled this season with its response to player protests and cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment. Now it's working to get more women working in the league.

From high school all the way up to college and the NFL, football sidelines are dominated by men. But in communities across the country, the game is increasingly being played, coached and managed by women. And the NFL is helping those women get on the path to a career in the game they love, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.

Fifty women, selected from hundreds of applicants, are fighting for a career on a field traditionally run by men.

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Anne Doepner is a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan – and one of the pioneers, rising from executive assistant to the team's director of football administration.
 
"I've been challenged about the fact that I want to do this job, to my face. You know, I've had people say, 'Why do you want to do this?'" Doepner said. "'And Why not?' is what I say back. … I think that a lot of women think that, that it's not a possibility or not something they would naturally consider doing because they don't see other women doing it."

Women make up roughly half of all NFL fans but currently just a third of league employees – and they're have been no female head coaches or general managers. 

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has seen firsthand another issue: the league's struggles with workplace misconduct. This year Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was forced to step aside, appointing Tina Becker as his replacement, now one of the NFL's top female executives.

"There are jobs for women involved in the NFL and they're not on the outside, they're on the inside. They're making decisions," Rivera said.
 
In the two-day forum, the women are learning the finer points of coaching, scouting players, and the importance of dreaming big. Crawford sat down with four of the women to talk about breaking through football's gender barrier.

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"Big picture? I'd like to be a GM, then a majority owner, and win a few Super Bowls," Stephanie Jackson said.

"I've always kind of wanted to be in the front office," Paula Nagarajan said.

"My eventual goal is to be a college football head coach," Heather Marini said.

"Hopefully a full-time, positional coaching job," Phoebe Schecter said.
 
Schecter, like many of the women there, plays tackle football. After attending the forum in 2017, she landed an internship with the Buffalo Bills.
 
"It makes you so confident, playing this sport. And you feel empowered. And then you get to come to somethin' like this and you've got these other women who experience the same things. And you just think, I can conquer the world after this," Schecter said.

Stephanie Jackson is a wide receiver for one of the 65 teams in the Women's Football Alliance.
 
"It's especially bad if you play because, for most people… You have to beat them for them to believe you," Jackson said.

"Football is, to me, the best bit of every other sport, all put in together," Marini said.

Marini has played and coached football in Australia for 10 years.

"Youth football is very inclusive," Marini said. "There is a lot of sports where you do have to be, you know, the fastest or the most athletic person to play football or to play another sport. But to play football, you know, you can – all shapes and sizes and play."

"I don't see football going anywhere, honestly, especially 'cause women are-- when women get something, that's just how it is, you know," Jackson said.

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Outside the forum, you could see the passion the young girls feel for the game. As for the newly crowned flag football champions from Tucson, Arizona, the message that girls are welcomed in football is being heard loud and clear.
 
"If anybody would say girls can't play football, what would you guys say?" Crawford asked the team.

"Watch me!" the team responded.

Skeptics may say how can women coach when they've never played football? Well, some of the best coaches never played the game either. Representatives from other leagues, like Major League Baseball, are already turning to the NFL for advice on how to replicate this forum for their own sport.