Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:
Ameena Soliman, Philadelphia Eagles
Position: Director of Personnel Operations/Pro Scout
How did you get your start in a career in football?
When I was applying to colleges, I knew I wanted to do something in football, but I didn't know exactly what that was. When I got to Temple University, I reached out to the director of football operations and asked him if I could be involved in some way, whether that was volunteering or not. I began helping out with operations and recruiting at the end of 2013. I was with Matt Rhule and his staff, who were just awesome to me, for several years. After he went to Baylor, I stuck around as an operations and recruiting graduate assistant. Then I spent a little less than a year with the league office in New York, working in player personnel -- which is different than working in player personnel with individual teams. It is more administrative when it comes to moving players, so anything to do with player transactions, salary cap and the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). I loved that job but knew I wanted to get back to a team at some point. My boss at the league office heard about an opportunity with the Philadelphia Eagles, and I actually was already living in Philly and commuting to New York, so it worked out well. I took a six-week internship with the Eagles, and he gave me the opportunity to come back after that internship, which when I look back was generous, because I might not have taken that internship had I had to quit my job at the league office. I obviously ended up staying with the Eagles doing a full-time internship for the year before working my way up.
You mentioned knowing you wanted to work in football. Where did your passion for the game come from?
I grew up watching the Eagles and was a fan of them. Interestingly, up until about 11th grade, I was dead set on being a sports medicine doctor. I grew up around a lot of doctors and medical professionals, so in my mind, that's what people did. I figured I would do the same but take a sports route. So I was in a career planning class, and one of my teachers asked us what we wanted to do and why. I told her, and her response was, "Oh, do you like medicine?" I replied, "No, but I like sports." That was the first time I realized that there were other paths I could take.
Now that you are in your sixth season with the Eagles, how has your role expanded to what it is today?
I started as a scouting intern, and that was my first experience in the player evaluation space. I had worked on the administrative side in New York and helped with more off-the-field stuff in college, so this was my first exposure to actually doing it myself. As an intern and even into my first year as player personnel coordinator, I did a lot of administrative support for the scouting department. So instead of evaluating a player and putting a report in, maybe I was quality controlling a document that was going to a scout or helping organize our road scouts. As I was doing that, I was learning how to scout in my own time. I had a lot of people in the organization spend a lot of time with me watching players, and I would write sample reports, and we'd workshop them. I wasn't in an evaluation type role until halfway through my second year.
Most scouting departments in the NFL are split into two: college scouting and pro scouting. The college scouts are out on the road at schools and games. The pro scouts are mostly in-house -- at least for us -- and they cover opponent scouting, free agency, trades, players on waivers and so on. In terms of player operations, I now help if there is an event where we are all coming together -- like the NFL Scouting Combine -- to get the logistics together. Other times, I am making sure we are all on the same page, because with so many of our college scouts out on the road, it's important to make sure we are all connected and the pieces are running smoothly. I kind of serve as a conduit of information between everyone.
In terms of my player evaluation role, I spend more time in pro scouting. In the pro world, I'll have scouting advances where I'll be watching upcoming opponents and making reports for coaches. The same goes for free agency, trade candidates or practice squad players -- essentially any way we can acquire a player. Once draft prep starts to kick in with all-star games and the combine, I'll do more college evals, whether it's by school or position.
What was the process of learning how to scout and evaluate players?
I didn't get my first experience with evaluating until 2018, but I will say that I was at the same disadvantage as any man who hasn't played football. I've watched the game and have an understanding of how it goes, but I hadn't broken it down or written a scouting report. In that sense, there was a learning curve, but it wasn't necessarily harder than I thought it was going to be. I knew it was going to be a challenge. I knew it was going to be a growth process. It's not something you get better at overnight, but as you watch more players, the more knowledge you have in your mental database of what you are or aren't looking for. Most scouts, myself included, are constantly learning and growing with the more players we watch.
In Philly, they have made my transition very easy. I was brought along slowly. A lot of people invested their time to help me get to a spot where I felt comfortable, and I feel very lucky to be in an organization where people spent the time and resources to develop me.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The work-life balance part is tough. We are in an industry that is demanding, and there is a lot of pressure. We put in a lot of hours, and sometimes the schedule can get funky. But at the end of the day, I get to do something that I love. If my 10-year-old self could look at me right now, I think she would be very happy that I get to watch football for my job. I feel grateful and appreciative when I look at the big picture.
It's no secret that the Eagles have fielded great rosters under general manager Howie Roseman. What do you think is the key to the success of the personnel department?
I won't get into too many specifics, but in general, we have good people in our department. Whether we are looking at college or pro players, it's collaborative. If medical needs to get involved, player engagement or other departments, everyone is great at communicating and working together. We all genuinely like working together, and I always say that if we didn't like each other, we wouldn't like our jobs, because we are together sometimes 15 hours a day. It's a cool, collaborative environment full of bright people who are all working together to make decisions.
Do you have a favorite moment of your time with the Eagles?
I like almost everything I do in my job, but I'll go back to 2020 during the pandemic. We were limited with the number of people who could come into the facility, and it was an all-hands-on-deck situation. I ended up helping our video department and filmed the defensive line for the whole season during practice. I came out of that feeling like a more well-rounded employee, because I had a better understanding of how that department worked, but I also improved as a scout. We look at things a certain way in scouting and use certain terminology, so to hear coaches talk about a player's footwork or other things I wouldn't know to look at or how to look at, definitely made me a better scout. I was a sponge the entire year. I felt much more comfortable evaluating that position after that experience, and the coaches were gracious enough to have me in the room at times to help me learn as well. We obviously didn't have a great season in 2020, and the circumstances didn't make it a fun year to play football, but I learned so much.
What is next in terms of what you want to accomplish?
I would love to get a Super Bowl ring. I wasn't here in the 2017 season; I came right after, and we were so close last year.
Switching over to mentorship, do you have any mentors who have helped you along the way? And what have you learned from them?
There are so many. I am a product of all the organizations I've been part of and the people who have put their arms around me -- from Temple to the league office to the Philadelphia Eagles. In Philly, we have a culture of developing people internally, and we have great ownership and a leadership group that have supported me and made me feel welcome. I feel like there are a lot of people here who have gone above and beyond to get me to where I am now.
Do you have any advice for women who want to get into scouting?
My advice for woman going into scouting would be the same for anyone else going into it. It is very competitive, and it's really important to be a good person, to be coachable and willing to be a sponge and ask questions. When people get their start, they often will start as an intern and though some tasks and responsibilities may seem insignificant, that's how you prove yourself and build trust. Your reputation -- good or bad -- will follow you, so take care of your relationships.