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Callie Brownson highlighted as one of 12 women coaches during the NFL Women's Forum 

Brownson and head coach Kevin Stefanski each spoke at panel discussions during the 2024 Women’s Forum a part of the 2024 NFL Combine

Callie Womeb's Forum 3.4

As 12 women sat on stage representing different teams across the NFL, there was a saying displayed behind as the backdrop – The Future of Football, crossed out and replaced by The Future is Now.

It was the sentiment of the opening panel of the NFL Women's Forum at the 2024 NFL Combine on Feb. 27. For the first seven years of the Women's Forum, the message was "The Future of Football," with the goal of seeing an increase of women in football roles. There's been a 141 percent increase in roles for women in the NFL in the last four years – which amounts to about seven women per club on the football side.

"The importance of this panel is to demonstrate the progress that we've seen specifically in coaching, which historically is the hardest nut to crack in the NFL," Sam Rapoport, NFL Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion, said to open the panel. "When we started this program eight years ago, we had zero women currently working in full time coaching roles in the NFL. And that has completely changed. We now have 12, which is more than any male professional sports league in the world. This is the first time ever these women will be on stage together and have ever been in the same room together."

The NFL hosted its eighth annual NFL Women's Forum at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine as part of its continued effort and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The program connected 40 women – 60 percent of whom are women of color – with leaders in professional football. In its eight years, there have been 400 women through the program who have earned opportunities to connect with coaches and general managers across the league.

The Browns continue to be a part of the conversation increasing women's presence in the league and were represented with assistant wide receivers coach Callie Brownson who participated in the panel with the 12 women coaches across the league.

"This is obviously very powerful with all of us up here, but eight years ago I was in that chair," Brownson said during the panel discussion. "And if you would have told me I would be where I am now, I probably would not have believed you. So, I owe it to her to have the purpose and to remind myself of that purpose, and to continue to work hard, continue to grow."

Brownson joined the Browns as chief of staff in 2020 and became the first woman to coach an NFL position group in a game when she served as the team's acting tight ends coach during a Week 12 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. She was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for her accomplishments as artifacts from the game with a sideline jacket and autographed ball put on display. Brownson also served as acting wide receivers coach during a Week 17 victory against the Steelers in 2020 and acting running backs coach in Week 15 against the Raiders in 2021.

She then added assistant wide receivers coach to her title and duties in 2022 and has served in that role since. As Brownson shared her journey with those in attendance, she spoke highly of the role that head coach Kevin Stefanski has played in her progress over her NFL career.

"From the time that I got to Cleveland, he was very intentional with my development," Brownson said. "He knew exactly what I wanted to do, and the fact that I wanted to coach on the field, and that's where I wanted to get, and he was very intentional with how I developed over the time that I was Chief of Staff. I had a ton of exposure to everything that I wanted to have exposure to. I got to be just as involved in the football stuff as much as I wanted to, so that when this transition happened, it could be smooth. So, I'm really grateful for that."

The 8th Annual Women's Football Forum at the 2024 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana on February 27, 2024.

Her experience magnified the importance of taking advantage of opportunities in front of leaders in the NFL, passing on the advice to those participants to use the two-day program and make connections around the league.

One of those connections was with Stefanski, who also was on a panel with four head coaches across the league who have played an integral role in the progress of women in the league. Stefanski additionally highlighted Abir Chaudhry, who is the director of team logistics and operations for the Browns, and Hunter Carson, football operations assistant, who were both participants in the program in 2023. The Browns lead the league in hires from the forum with the hires of Chaudhry and Carson from the 2023 program.  

"For us, it's so important – and it's been said 1,000 times – we have some hard jobs, and we want really smart people around us," Stefanski said. "And part of hiring those smart people that we put around us, we don't limit it to, I don't want just 50 percent of the population or someone who just played in the NFL. Callie Brownson is on our staff because she's a damn good football coach and she helps me do my job. […] I think part of it goes back to the humility, understanding that you need really good people around you."

The NFL continues its efforts to expand opportunities for women in the league, as over 250 opportunities have emerged for women in NFL roles since 2017 and the inception of the Women's Forum. Those 12 women on stage represented a dramatic change to the coaching landscape in professional football, while also recognizing the need for continued improvement.

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