On Wednesday, the Jets and Nike celebrated the 35th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) with the announcement of the creation of a New Jersey High School Girls Flag Football Pilot League which will begin play next spring. In addition to the league, the Jets, who will stand with millions to salute the accomplishments of female athletes, recognize the influence of sports participation for women and girls, and honor the progress and continuing struggle for equality for women in sports -- on and off the field, are continuing to embrace diversity in all aspects of the organization.
"It means a great deal to have a National Girls and Womens Sports Day because we need to celebrate, idolize, honor and value women athletes in sports with the same energy as we do male athletes in sports whether it's little league to professional sports on a national level," said Kachana Wilder, the Jets' payroll and benefits manager. She added: "It never crossed my mind I would be working in sports, especially the NFL. It mattered that it was a supervisory position and allowed me to expand my knowledge as a payroll professional. [This is] an organization that encouraged me to think outside the box and embraced versatility."
President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation in 1987 establishing the day of observance, initially to honor the volleyball player Flo Hyman, who died from Marfan's Syndrome, a genetic disorder, during a match in Japan in 1986. Since then, NGWSD has evolved to recognize all female athletes, their past and current sports achievements; the positive influence of sports participation for women, girls and society; and continuing progress made since Title IX was passed.
After working for the Houston Texans for eight years in the college scouting department, Mari Jo Kohler joined the Jets as the team's manager, football operations.
"It was a chance for me to grow, learn and advance my career in the NFL," she said. "I was an athlete my entire life, and it has always been a dream of mine to have a successful career in the sports industry."
For Kohler and the more than 40 women who are full-time employees throughout the Jets organization, the roles and responsibilities have evolved over the years. The stereotype of women in "traditional" support roles has been transformed.
"I have seen women go from strictly administrative roles to now position coaches, chiefs of staff, vice presidents and leading various departments on the football and business side in different professional sports organizations," Kohler said. "There have been many misconceptions about women working in sports and that we don't belong here. There has always been the stigma that we are here for the wrong reasons or that we don't belong in the male-dominated sports. I think that the women that have paved the way before us have proven that hard work and passion pay off and we, too, can have promising careers in the NFL and sports in general."
The Jets history is highlighted by a pair of women who paved the way as trailblazers Helen Dillon, a VP on the club's board of directors from 1968 to 1984, and Connie Carberg are believed to be the first female executive and the first woman scout in professional football, respectively. Women in sports continue to make tremendous strides since Mrs. Dillon and Mrs. Carberg laid the groundwork, but the Jets and the NFL's work is far from done. The Jets' Social Justice, Diversity and Inclusion Team (SJDIT), a group of employees from across the business and football staffs, meet regularly to discuss the club's social justice efforts as well as internal diversity and inclusion practices. The women working for the Jets have stepped forward to share their stories, celebrating events like the National Girls and Women in Sports Day and in programs like Dress for Success, offering examples and insights showing how far women have come, and still have to go, in the NFL and sports.
"The number of working women in sports has expanded exponentially," Wilder said. "I admire women in sports making major moves."
The word "diversity" means more than simply putting people from different backgrounds in the same room doing the same old, same old. Ultimately the goal is to bring diverse views,opinions and experiences to any discussion. To broaden and add depth on the granular level.
"The beauty of a diverse workforce is the opportunity to hear a multitude of perspectives on any given topic or initiative," said Jessica Blank, senior manager, marketing for the Jets. "As a company, this allows us to better understand our growing fanbase and more effectively communicate with them as different segments of our audience have representation within the team here at the Jets.
"As an individual, I'm grateful to learn about different ways to approach a particular situation from my colleagues. By taking these into consideration, I can expand my own viewpoint which has been shaped by my experiences and continue to grow both professionally and personally."
The smart, educated and motivated women working at the Jets are strong drivers of progress and they all are committed to support each other and provide mentorship along the way. Young girls can dream differently, knowing the landscape has changed and women are opening new doors every day.
As another National Girls and Women in Sports Day comes around, the idea of more women working for the Jets and in the NFL is becoming less of a novelty and more of a certainty.