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Jessica Larmony sat in a second-floor ballroom at the J.W. Marriott in Indianapolis two years ago, amazed and excited by what she saw.
Larmony had just finished her first year as Detroit Lions scouting operations manager after serving in a variety of roles in college athletics and with the Lions.
She started as a recruiting assistant during her freshman year at Rutgers, joined the staff full-time after she graduated, was one of P.J. Fleck’s first and most important behind-the-scenes hires at Western Michigan and spent four years with the Broncos before leaving for a community relations job with the Lions.
The NFL was hosting its third annual Women’s Careers in Football forum, and Larmony sat in on part of the conference at then-general manager Bob Quinn’s behest.
As she listened to participants detail their roles in various college football programs across the country, she realized opportunities were expanding for women in football beyond the narrow tracks she saw firsthand.
And when Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians spoke passionately about wanting to give more women opportunities in football but not having the right connections to properly identify qualified talent, she knew she had to get involved.
Larmony introduced herself to Sam Rapoport, the NFL’s senior director for diversity, equity and inclusion, after the seminar. The two stayed in touch by email, and last month Larmony was a featured presenter at the forum – this one done virtually by Zoom – for the second straight year.
“She’s at that point in her career where she has a lot of experience under her belt but she’s so very relatable to young women who are coming up in the business and have an interest in entering into the business,” Rapoport said. “So I think that participants can see themselves in her, and her experience are very relevant to them because she’s not 25, 35 years from being at that entry level. So I feel like she really serves that inspiration because she’s such a success story and the participants feel like they can relate to her very much on a one-on-one level.”
As women’s history month comes to a close, Larmony, 33, has emerged as one of a handful of modern-day trailblazers in the NFL.
The league is slowly diversifying, not just by race but gender, and while few women occupy prominent football-side roles, Larmony is one of many pushing to change that.
Arians had two women on his Super Bowl-winning coaching staff last season, Lori Locust, an assistant defensive line coach, and Maral Javadifar, an assistant strength and conditioning coach. The Washington Football Team recently made Jennifer King the first full-time Black female assistant in the NFL. And Rapoport said 31 of the 32 teams have participated in the women’s football forums, which gives aspiring job seekers direct access to owners, GMs, coaches and other executives across the league.
The forums have produced 119 job opportunities in five years, Rapoport said, declining to name the one team that has not participated.
Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and general manager Brad Holmes also spoke at this year’s event, and Larmony, who is instrumental in organizing the Lions’ scouting processes, has made it her purpose to champion diversity and inclusion for women in sports.
“If I can do anything in my power to lengthen the table and pull up seats then it’s not only my honor but my duty to be able to do that,” Larmony said. “And I think it’s so imperative, especially for me as a woman of color, if I can leverage opportunities for other women, for other people of color, then that’s my job to do that at the highest level when I attain that. Because I’ve had so many people, as I mentioned, set the tone of the room for me, so it is my job to do that for other people when I have the opportunity to do so.”
A native of the French West Indian island of St. Martin whose family moved to New Jersey when she was 5, Larmony was a budding soccer star who thought about pursuing a career in journalism when she tore her ACL as a senior in high school.
She joined her roommate working in the football office her first year at Rutgers, helping out with official and unofficial visits as a way to make extra spending money, and never guessed 14 years later she still would be involved with the sport.
Impressed by her work ethic and professionalism, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano offered Larmony a full-time after she graduated. She ran the team’s recruiting database, coordinated official visits and camps, and did so with enough efficiency that Fleck, then a young Rutgers assistant, repeatedly told her he planned to bring her with him when he got his first head coaching job one day.
In December of 2012, when Fleck was hired by WMU, he called athletic director Kathy Beauregard his first day on the job and asked how she felt about him hiring a woman on his football staff.
“She actually had, when I met her, a level of maturity that was way above many people that you see at that age,” Beauregard said. “And definitely P.J. wanted her for one of the most important jobs you hire and that’s your operations job. They’re the ones that, don’t tell anybody else, but they’re the ones that get it done.”
While an exact number is hard to pin down because of varying job responsibilities, Larmony was one of a handful of women to occupy an operations role in Division I football during her time at WMU.
That made for some uncomfortable moments at times, like when she showed up to one of her first 100-minute meetings – the all-encompassing protocol meetings that happen before college football games – and one administrator did a double-take when informed of her job.
“You walk in as the representative for your team and everyone’s like, ‘Hey, Western Michigan, check in,’” she said. “And you’re like, ‘Here.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were the reporter, or I thought you were some (other) role.’ You’re just like, ‘No, I’m the opps person. And they’re just like, ‘Oh man, never seen a woman.’ It was like, ‘You all right?’”
Those early experiences at Western, and finding a mentor in Beauregard, reaffirmed to Larmony that representation matters, and helped fuel her desire to open doors for others.
“In order to be effective, you have to be seen in these spaces as well,” she said. “People have to understand that you are capable, you are qualified and you can do the jobs. And it’s not always exclusive to gender, necessarily. And some of these gender-conforming roles that people just see women in as limiting, it’s kind of like, let’s think more progressively and outside the box. We are capable.”
Rapoport said about 30% of the 119 opportunities that have come from the women in football forums have been on the personnel side, though as with college operations roles, those jobs are more varied in their responsibilities and thus harder to track.
Larmony, whose responsibilities with the Lions include coordinating pre-draft logistics such as combine interviews and all-star game travel and who Quinn called "a superstar," is one of a handful of women who work intently in scouting departments across the NFL.
She said she has no desire to be a road scout – the New York Giants (Hannah Burnett), Minnesota Vikings (Kelly Kleine) and San Francisco 49ers (Salli Clavelle) are among the teams who employ women in traditional scouting roles – but sees “endless opportunities” for her and other women in football.
“It would be awesome to see a female GM. I think that the opportunity exists, it’s just a matter of who’s willing to take a chance on it,” she said. “You see a lot of these traditional backgrounds for a GM is work in scouting, and we have that now. We have women who are evaluating, we have women who are out hitting the road doing that, so why not next woman up mentality?
“It would also be awesome to see more women in executive level roles on the football side. I think oftentimes when individuals are looking to fill these roles they’re often hiring in at the entry level and it would just be awesome to see more women in executive roles, cause we are capable, we can do it, and our reach is just getting that much more broad. We have women in scouting, we have a ton of women in coaching that is popping up. We have women doing salary cap. The needle’s shifting so hopefully it’s (just a matter of time).”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' Jessica Larmony opens doors for women in football