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Next Woman Up: Melainey Lowe, Director of Football Operations for the Indianapolis Colts


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:

Melainey Lowe, Indianapolis Colts

Position: Director of Football Operations

Let's start from the beginning. How did you get your start in a career in football?

I started at Saint Mary's College in northern Indiana on the pre-med track. I was really trying to find my niche, trying to find something I could do to stay involved in sports when I was in school, because I had always played sports growing up. I went across the street to Notre Dame -- part of the tri-campus experience with Saint Mary's and Holy Cross College -- to its club fair. There was a booth for Notre Dame football equipment managers. I didn't know much about equipment, but I thought, Hey, it's football. I grew up a huge Notre Dame fan, so I figured I'd try it. There was an entire tryout process with 75 to 100 students. You can only try out as a freshman to get the position as a sophomore; then you do an interview process at the end of each year, and you either were kept for the next season or cut. I tried out and fell in love with being part of something bigger than myself. I did make it as a sophomore equipment manager.

Going into my sophomore year, I was still on pre-med track and wasn't loving it. I was trying to figure out how I could work with the football team but still graduate with a degree, so I ended up switching to business, marketing and finance. Being able to work as an equipment manager taught me foundational values that still help me on a daily basis. It helped me grow as a person -- both professionally and personally. I met great people and was able to get hands-on experience -- the nitty-gritty, gross work of football -- and I give equipment managers all the respect in the world. It is a hard job and taught me to have a good work ethic. I was able to get my degree from Saint Mary's, but Notre Dame is where I learned the most during that time.

After college, I knew jobs in football were pretty slim, so I looked at going the corporate route. People at Notre Dame were the ones who saw something in me that I didn't see at the time, and they told me to strive to work in the NFL. With their help, I was able to connect with people in the Indianapolis Colts organization. I first started at the Colts as a training camp intern, and I knew I had to hit the ground running, because I had no previous experience in football operations. That led to a season-long internship, then to operations assistant and now to where I am today.

What does being the director of football operations entail?

It's hard to put an exact job description together, because we help so many different people and departments. The role constantly evolves, because the more you help people, the more they trust you and the more responsibilities you incur. Essentially, anything with team travel is the cliché area that operations involves, whether that's scheduling buses or hotels or planning all of our offseason programs. The job really entails everything. Whoever needs help, we're here.

The Colts played in Munich, Germany, last season. What kind of undertaking was that for your department in terms of travel?

Last year was my first season in the director role. The team also had a new head coach (Shane Steichen) and a rookie quarterback (Anthony Richardson), so there was a lot of excitement. Then in May, we learned we were playing a game against the New England Patriots in Germany. The last time the Colts played an international game was 2016 in London. It was a new experience for a lot of people. To see how fans in another country were amazed and engaged in American football. There was a language barrier, so planning the travel and figuring out our standard operational protocols was a challenge at times. But overall, I think it was a great experience. I think it brought our team and staff together because we all had to work closely to achieve a common goal. I think it was a great learning experience. Those international trips are the Super Bowl for the football operations department.

During draft season, our department brings in the prospects for top-30 visits. We'll coordinate all of their travel here to Indy. For our veterans during OTAs, we're helping get them here and into hotels. Once the NFL draft is underway, those days are really exciting. We're some of the first people to call that player and congratulate them. We help bring them here for the first time and get them familiarized with our organization. We're the first impression the player has with the organization, so it's important to represent the values of the organization. We're booking travel and logistics, working with the agent and the player, not only for their travel to get to Indy but also while they are here. We're that department that if we don't have the answer, we'll find it and make sure they feel welcome here, because this is their new home.

Melainey Lowe is entering her second season with the Indianapolis Colts as the director of football operations. (Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)
Melainey Lowe is entering her second season with the Indianapolis Colts as the director of football operations. (Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)

What would you say is the most challenging part of your position?

Over the last two years and even going back to my time with the Notre Dame football team, it's the time spent away from family. You miss big moments. It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice. There aren't many people who get to do what we do, but it comes with a lot of sacrifice, especially during the regular season, when you're working seven days a week for seven months straight. My family has been great. They come to see me at times and understand the grind and work required behind the scenes. In addition, working in operations, we're working with so many departments, and it's hard to make sure everyone is happy. You have to understand that nothing is going to be perfect. Things will go wrong, but it's all about finding a solution and doing what's best for the club.

Do you have a favorite moment from your time with the Colts?

It is definitely the international game, because it really took six months for us to get there. Once we arrived, and when you looked around the stadium, you saw people from so many countries coming together to watch a Colts football game that you were a part of. That was a cool moment. Arriving at the hotel was another moment, knowing just how much went into making this trip possible. It was a lot of hard work for every department.

Let's change to mentorship. Do you have any mentors and what advice have you received from them?

First and foremost, my family. I grew up in Florida, and my family went to golf tournaments, hockey games and football training camps. We were constantly around sports, and seeing my entire family love sports so much, they ingrained in me a lot of the values I take to work today.

Beyond that, I think it's important to have different mentors who provide different perspectives, some who are in the industry because they understand some things that maybe your family doesn't. My first real mentors were at Notre Dame -- David Peloquin, Bill Rees and Chris Bacsik. They helped me see a bigger dream for me than I did. They were all really supportive and helped me grow as a person.

At the Colts, general manager Chris Ballard keeps me in the loop and allows me to be part of so many conversations and thought processes. I also look to some of the coaches – John Fox, Richard Smith and Gus Bradley -- for a lot of things because they have been in the league for so long. I have a lot to learn from them.

Lastly, co-owner Carlie Irsay-Gordon is incredible. She's always on the sidelines during games wearing headsets. It's great to work alongside her on the football side, and I look up to her a lot.

What advice do you have for women looking to start a career in football?

Get ready. It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice, especially when you see your friends living completely different lives than you. At the same time, it's such a blessing to work in the NFL. It's not easy, but it's worth it. You will be challenged, knocked down and make mistakes, but it's important to learn from them, because you'll be better for them. As you grow in a company, never lose sight of who you are and the values that you have. Continue to show you're an asset. Coach Steichen always says, "Every day is an interview." And it's true. You can't ever be comfortable where you are. You have to strive to get better.

What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your career?

That's a great question. I'm going to be honest, I'm still learning what that looks like. I am enjoying where I am at 25 years old. I'm being a sponge and asking a lot of questions because I don't know where I want to end up. I'm excited about where I am. I'm focusing on building my confidence and learning from those around me. The possibilities are endless, which is a cool thing to think about.

Lastly, what are you most proud of?

I'm most proud of the things we've accomplished as a team, watching us continue to get better, and I have continued to grow in my own position, along with helping those around me. I'd also say having the resilience to keep going on this career path.

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