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NFL Women's Symposium Inspires Vikings Employees

Posted Mar 28, 2017

The connection was nearly instant, and the bond will be lasting for dozens of women who uniquely understand working in football operations.

Vikings Director of Football Administration Anne Doepner and College Scouting Assistant Kelly Kleine met with other female employees of NFL teams and the league office last weekend in Arizona for the second annual Women’s Career Development Symposium.

The event featured networking opportunities and presentations on football administration, operations, coaching and scouting, as well as panel discussions and less formal talks.

Former Dolphins Vice President of Football Administration Dawn Aponte shared her career story, including how she worked to gain the trust of Bill Parcels with the Jets and was asked by the Hall of Fame Head Coach to join him in Miami.

Aponte recently transitioned to an executive role in Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross’ RSE Strategy and Business Development. She was joined by Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn, Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwill, Falcons Assistant General Manager Scott Pioli and Chargers President of Football Operations John Spanos.

Anne Doepner
Dir. of Football Administration

“It was a really good opportunity to network with other women from other clubs who have similar experiences and also the executives, to be able to learn from them,” Doepner said. “We got a lot of one-on-one time with them. It was a very small group, so we had lots of access to high-level executives. It was a very open and honest forum, a conversation.

“We were able to talk openly not just about ways to be better at your job or ascend the career ladder but personal advice, very anecdotal,” Doepner added. “We heard from executives sharing their personal stories on how they were able to ascend in a male-dominated industry.”

Aponte, a mother of four children, held the highest football-side position by a female in the NFL when she was with the Dolphins. Her climb and commitment resonated with Doepner and Kleine, who are executing work that has been historically done by men.  

“Dawn came in, had to assert herself and be the only woman. She spoke about things that I’ve seen that all women have seen: men not talking to you, men talking around you, talking to someone above you,” Doepner said. “You really have to work a little harder to get that credibility and identify yourself as part of the team or not an assistant.”

Doepner, a mother of two, and Kleine said they value the support they’ve received from Vikings co-workers and the way that their responsibilities have expanded by General Manager Rick Spielman, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski, Assistant General Manager George Paton, Director of Pro Scouting Ryan Monnens and Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson.

“I’ve been really fortunate, I know, because Rob, Rick, George and Ryan have always been really inclusive and helped me get opportunities to be seen as part of the team,” Doepner said. “They’ve included me in high-level meetings and strategic negotiations, asked my opinion all of the time, so I’m really fortunate because they have involved me at that level, but to see someone like Dawn, I feel kind of a kinship with her because she is the one and only role model. I hope that going forward there will be more of us eventually for other people because it’s great to learn from Rob, but it’s a little different when you see a woman doing that same job.”

Doepner and Brzezinski have been able to learn the Collective Bargaining Agreement together since it went into effect in 2011. They are now working on wrinkles that can come up once contracts are extended into the 2020 — the final year of the CBA or beyond.

Kleine’s work with the Vikings began in 2012 as an intern in the public relations department. She transitioned to a scouting intern before the next draft and was hired full-time thereafter.

“I absolutely love it, and I think what I love most about it is I’m constantly learning,” Kleine said. “I obviously never played the game, so it’s a whole different aspect that way, and then also everyone I get to work with and all of the things I get to do. It’s exciting; you’re still part of a family, part of a team. It makes me love coming to work every day.”

Kelly Kleine
College Scouting Assistant

Kleine said the weekend was an “amazing” and “extremely motivating” experience, one that encouraged her about the increasing number of females working in football operations.

“There haven’t been many females,” Kleine said. “There’s been some, but we all want to keep growing and keep doing big things. It’s kind of tough when you’re just in here on your own and you don’t realize there’s so many other women trying to do it, too. That was the cool part about this, getting to see and meet all of the other women that are doing it.”

Doepner and Kleine attended the NFL Scouting Combine for the past couple of years, further enhancing their abilities to do their jobs. Doepner was able to build face-to-face relationships, which she expects to help with contract negotiations. Kleine’s role assessing players — both draft prospects as well as on other teams — has increased as part of her continued development.

She’s helped out Monnens and done advance scouting for Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and assistant special teams coach Ryan Ficken.

“The special teams coaches have been huge because they’ve been pushing for me to do their advance, and I started doing that this year,” Kleine said. “The support here is really amazing compared to what I’ve heard from other teams.

“[Attending the symposium] made me realize how lucky I am here because Rick is extremely supportive, and he’s always pushing me to grow,” Kleine said. “I’ve gone to pro days this year. I’ve gone to the combine the past couple of years. He’s having me scout now, too, and just keeps pushing me. If it wasn’t for him, I probably never would have asked to do it because I just didn’t know it, but it was, ‘Why not?’

“In talking to other ladies down there, they don’t get that,” Kleine said. “Everyone in our scouting department and in the building is supportive. It starts with the Wilf family. They have to approve it, but they just keep letting me learn and take on more tasks, the coaches, too.”