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Higher Women: A New Generation of Sports Leadership

Last Updated: March 10, 2022
A recent flurry of hires landed women in unprecedented positions. They may be the first, but the goal is to ensure they aren’t the last.

Hire women. 

Those two words have echoed louder and louder throughout the sports world over the last few years. But in the past 10 days alone, something different happened. Something perhaps we’ve never seen before.

The fallout of the #MeToo movement had athletic organizations reflecting on the obstacles that women have faced through history and the discrimination and harassment they experience in the workplace. This has produced a seismic effect, opening up more opportunities for women to take their place in front offices and executive suites.

In November, Kim Ng was named general manager of the Miami Marlins, the first woman GM in the four major US sports leagues. During Super Bowl LV, there were two women — strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar and defensive line assistant Lori Locust — on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sideline, a historic first for the NFL.

“These hirings aren’t a nice gesture or an act of charity. Teams and leagues everywhere are starting to realize that they’re missing out on half the talent pool when they don’t hire women. Their eyes are being opened to the untapped potential of female leaders,” Just Women’s Sports‘ Haley Rosen told Boardroom.

And in the past two weeks alone, there has been a veritable hiring flurry across the highest levels of the sports world.

Let’s talk about what the recent elevation of four superstar women means for the broader sporting landscape.

Meghan Duggan

Title: Manager, Player Development
Organization: New Jersey Devils

On May 19, the New Jersey Devils announced Meghan Duggan as their new Player Development Manager. A former US Olympic gold medalist who hung up her skates in October after a seven-year professional career, the Devils are betting on her to raise up their young squad with her golden touch.

Duggan, an out LGBT woman, has been a long-standing advocate for accessibility, diversity, and inclusion in hockey, and was a member of the first Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. With this perspective and expertise, her player development role will extend well beyond the ice.

“The value of diversity and thought and growing the game and respecting people that come from different backgrounds and knowing that’s good business, right? Bringing people in with different thoughts can only add value to any organization,” Duggan said.

She joins Kate Madigan, Executive Director of Hockey Management and Operations, among the high-level women in the Devils organization.

Kelly Kleine

Title: Exec. Director of Football Operations & Special Advisor to the GM
Organization: Denver Broncos

Two days before the Devils revealed Duggan, the Denver Broncos announced last week that they had hired Kelly Kleine as Executive Director of Football Operations and Special Advisor to General Manager George Paton. At just 30 years of age, Kleine still boasts nearly a decade of NFL experience. She was previously with the Minnesota Vikings for nine seasons, most recently as Manager of Player Personnel.

At Mile High, she will be a major part of the team’s scouting department and serve as the liaison for player evaluation — and she’s now the highest-ranking woman in the history of NFL scouting.

However, this is a distinction that Kleine hopes will be eclipsed by another woman quickly. And another, and another, and another.

“It is an absolute honor, but I hope someone passes me up soon,” Kleine said. “If anything, I hope it does let women know that there are these opportunities across the NFL. You don’t have to play football to work in the NFL. I hope I set a positive example for all women who want to break into football. I want to inspire women to keep growing in the NFL and throughout all of sports. It is important to show that women belong in sports. “

Ishwara Glassman Chrein

Title: President
Organization: Chicago Fire FC

After an extended search, the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer announced Ishwara Glassman Chrein as their new club President. Glassman Chrein will be responsible for the club’s business operations, and is only the fourth woman to hold such a position in the history of MLS.

Glassman Chrein joins the club after a wildly successful run as the Head of Sports Partnerships and Business Development at Yahoo Sports/Verizon Media, where she brokered relationships with the NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL, and NBC Universal. For her achievements, she was named to the 2020 Sports Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” list .

She brings her business acumen to a squad that has struggled over the last few years, both on the pitch and with their financials. The Fire are set for a rebrand in 2022 to mark their 25th anniversary, and Glassman Chrein is their No. 1 choice to jump-start a new chapter.

Nina King

Title: Vice President & Director of Athletics
Organization: Duke University

Not to be left behind, the NCAA ranks witnessed serious moves of their own: Nina E. King was formally introduced as the Vice President & Director of Athletics at Duke University on May 19. After 13 years at the school, King takes over for outgoing AD Kevin White, who announced his retirement in January. King will now head up a department that oversees 27 teams — and will likely lead the eventual search to replace legendary men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who turned 74 earlier this year.

King becomes just the third Black woman and sixth woman overall to lead a Power 5 athletic department, joining Carla Williams at the University of Virginia and Candice Lee at Vanderbilt.

And her emergence as one of the first Black women to hold such a position is not something that King takes lightly. At her introductory press conference, she acknowledged the weight of the breakthrough.

“I do want to recognize the historic significance of my appointment. I am a female, Black athletic director,” she said. “There are only a few of us. One of the reasons I am here today is to be a role model for little girls who look like me and to tell them [to] dream big, because your dreams can indeed be achieved.” 

As women break through sports’ glass ceiling and celebrate each victory, the road towards gender equality—in coaching, management, and media coverage—does remain long and challenging.

“The next step is getting more women into the coaching and management pipeline. If we want more women coaches, we first need more assistants. If we want more general managers, we need more female scouts and executives at every level of sport,” Haley Rosen told Boardroom.

But along this road, these four hires will help to pave the way for countless others.

And one day, what we currently see as extraordinary will have the privilege of feeling ordinary.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Following the publication of this article, the Philadelphia Eagles hired Catherine Raiche as VP of Football Operations, making her the highest-ranking woman in a personnel capacity in NFL history.

About The Author
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos is the Senior Director of Editorial Strategy at Boardroom. Before joining the team, her work appeared in ELLE. She previously served as the head of evaluation for a nonprofit where she became obsessed with systems and strategy and served as the curator of vibes and extinguisher of fires for the design thinking firm Stoked. She is constantly plotting a perfect tunnel ‘fit and a playlist for all occasions.
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