EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings' new college scouting director still occasionally catches scouts, executives and coaches apologizing for swearing in a meeting.
"I have to swear back and say I swear the same as you," she said.
That's right. She.
Kelly Kleine is in her first season in that job for the Vikings and her responsibilities are many. She coordinates travel for scouts and visits for draft prospects. She organizes reports from those in the field. She has even started evaluating players on video and working with the special teams and defensive line. And she's not alone as a woman in the football operations department for the Vikings.
Anne Doepner, the team's director of football administration, has risen up the ranks over the last 11 years and is now negotiating rookie contracts for the Vikings.
The two of them have given the Vikings something that the male-dominated NFL, a league that has long been criticized for how women are viewed and treated, is trying to emphasize: an increased female presence. There are 32 women across the league that work in team football operations departments, which includes front office, coaches, scouts and football administration.
Three of Minnesota's nine vice presidents are women, and Kleine and Doepner have both advanced after joining the team with entry-level positions.
"It starts with the fact of the importance of women in the workforce, but also the importance of women within our organization," COO Kevin Warren told The Associated Press. "One thing that is consistent is the more diverse environment you can create from a business standpoint, it really is important."
The Vikings also hold quarterly meetings with women inside the organization and the spouses of male employees to foster camaraderie. They have also assembled a panel of prominent women in the Twin Cities, including Lynx star Lindsay Whalen, to work on improving the female fan experience and empowering women.
Kleine had no background in football and needed a ride to team headquarters from her college roommate five years ago so she could interview a public relations representative for a school paper. She got her start as a PR intern and moved to the scouting side when another intern abruptly quit not long before the draft.
"I really didn't even know what a personnel department was all about," Kleine said. "I knew you had scouts and GMs and things like that. But I had no idea you had so many pieces that were behind an actual team. And I guess I never realized females weren't really in those positions because no one sees it."
Now Kleine is learning how to break down film with assistant coaches and sitting in on positional meetings.
"At first it was really hard for me," she said. "It was like, 'What am I watching?' ... But now that stuff is starting to click, it makes it a lot more interesting to watch and fun."