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:
Megan McLaughlin, Baltimore Ravens
Position: Director of Football Information
* * * * *
Can you explain how you got your start in a career in football?
I've always liked sports, but I'm a little bit of a klutz and not that good at them. I played sports in high school, then went to St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, which used to be Notre Dame's sister school. Notre Dame had a managers club where students could be a manager for athletics teams, and I joined, I believe, when I was a sophomore and did that for my entire college career. I was a manager for the football team for one season and women's lacrosse for two seasons. When I graduated, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. Everyone wants to work in sports but truly doesn't know what that exactly means. My neighbor at the time was the general manager of the New Orleans Saints, Bill Kuharich, and I asked him if he could look over my resume. I wanted to know whether I was putting the right things on my resume to maybe get a job in sports. It just happened that the Saints had an opening at the ticket office, and I ended up getting the job.
My first day of work -- and I'll never forget it -- was Ricky Williams’ draft day (in 1999). It was a very memorable experience. Being the first day of work, I really had no idea what a day like that meant. It was interesting and crazy, and then everyone wanted to buy tickets.
As changes occur in sports, you can move within an organization. After working in the ticket office for one season, I moved up to the scouting department as the administrative assistant to player personnel for three drafts with the Saints. Then, when Ron Zook was hired at the University of Florida, he asked me if I wanted to come with him, so I was the office manager during his three seasons (2002-04). Then it was like anything else in sports; when the head coach was fired, we were all fired.
A friend of mine then saw the Ravens job on the internet, so I applied, went through the interview process and was hired for the job in 2005. I've been here ever since.
What role were you hired for? And how has that role changed over 17 seasons?
I was hired to be an administrative assistant for the coaching staff. I took care of all the coaches, including the head coach, with playbooks, scripts (plays run at practice) and game plans -- you know, the everyday football stuff. When John Harbaugh was hired (in 2008), I moved up, in a way, because I was taking care of all the other coaches, and he had his own assistant.
Now, since the pandemic, I like to say I'm the team mom because of restricted access, I could be asked to do a lot more. But now as the director of football information, I still get the players and coaches things like the playbook and scripts, but it's expanded to whatever I can help with, so they can focus solely on the game. If I can make their lives easier, that's what I'm going to do. If I don't know what the answer to a question is, I will call someone else and find out.
You mentioned how things have changed since the start of the pandemic. How were things different for you?
For me specifically, things weren't that much different, because I was allowed in the building. We started using iPads in 2011, so once the player has an iPad, he has access to everything. I upload the playbook into an app, and they can get everything they need at any point in time. That made things a lot easier, especially when we were having to work over Zoom. I mailed out all of the iPads and got everyone set up, then the football work was the same. It was the other stuff that changed. I'm curious to see what sticks after the pandemic. There were so many things that stuck for people in their daily lives after Sept. 11, 2001, and I think we will experience lasting changes with the pandemic, as well.
I have to imagine last season's Wednesday afternoon game -- postponed three times from the initial Thanksgiving Day scheduled game due to COVID-19 -- was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What was that whirlwind like?
We still talk about that, like, "Where were you working from?" That was crazy. We kept testing everybody because we didn't know who was allowed to play. It was especially tough because we didn't know when we were going to be allowed inside the building. There was one point when we thought we could go in, but the test results didn't come in when we thought they would. There was constant communication between the players and staff. We had everything done to play the game on Thanksgiving night. Then it was, Oh, wait. We're not playing. Then again, Oh, wait. We're not playing. Then again.
I'm trying to remember when we were allowed access into the building, but I remember saying at one point that I needed to be able to get in to print and laminate the call sheets. If I wasn't at my house, I was hooked up to the Wi-Fi working in my car outside the facility. There was one day we were allowed to practice but could only go into the fieldhouse. We had to stop anyone from going further.
It was interesting, because we were flying by the seat of our pants. We had no idea, hour to hour or day to day, what we were doing. It was so different from any other time, because I pretty much know the layout of what my days look like until our last game.
We were so ready to play. That was one of the best games, because we were so proud of everybody for making it through those challenges, and we played a good football game despite the loss.
Those few weeks when games were moved made us really appreciate Sundays at 1 p.m.
What would you say is the most challenging part about your position?
I'm not really sure after doing this for so long. I am so used to doing my job that it has become routine, and I always enjoy when the season rolls around, because though I may not know what's going on outside of the building, I do know it's a football Monday and what needs to be done -- so on and so forth for the rest of the days in a week. It's less challenging for me and more trying to juggle a bunch of bottles in the air at the same time.
Have you had any mentors who have influenced you in your career?
My parents always told me that I could do whatever I wanted in terms of a career, and the head equipment manager at Notre Dame, Chris Matlock, echoed that and never treated the girls and guys differently. He always encouraged us to do what we had to do to get the job done and was willing to answer any questions. From there, I just picked up the good parts of everyone I worked with.
What would you say to a woman looking to start a career in football?
In all honesty, getting this job was just complete luck. Somebody saw it on the internet, and it just so happened to work out. But what I've told women in the past is get into sports. It doesn't necessarily have to be football, but get into sports in some way and show you have good work ethic, because sports cross over. You will run into people again somewhere along the way. Also, my whole thing is to not give up. If you don't make it with one team or department, that doesn't mean you won't make it with another team or in another department. That's been the biggest thing for me. Yes, someone had to help me get my foot in the door, but once I was in with the Saints working the ticket office, I had to work my way up.
What's next in line of things you want to accomplish?
I'm happy where I am and I love what I do. I don't feel the need to push for something else. Nothing that's above me interests me enough to have to give up something I love. Yes, it's a lot of work, and there are days when I'm frazzled, but I don't feel the need or pressure to go to a higher position. I'm happy where I am and still find a lot of value in my job.
I like that you are so sure about your role and the value it brings to the organization. So, lastly, what are you most proud of?
I still get phone calls and texts from people I've worked with -- players, coaches, staff -- either checking in or asking me for help, because they know I'll be able to help them figure out whatever they're missing. It's my reputation that I'm most proud of, because people still want to reach out, talk to or come see me.