Darcy Leslie spent eight years playing for the now-defunct Chicago Force, establishing herself as one of the best women to ever put on the pads. She was a national champion, and was decorated with many individual awards every season, including perennial team Defensive MVP and league All American. She also was Women's Football Alliance ( WFA ) Conference Player of the Year in 2013.
"My Force [career] entails some of my greatest athletic accomplishments," said Leslie, who lives in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood and is a general manager for Canine Crew and CrossFit Coach at Hardware Crossfit.
Football is still in her blood, though now retired from playing. Leslie was a Summer Scouting Specialist for the New York Jets.
Yes, the Jets of NFL fame.
"Last year, I applied for the Women's Careers in Football Forum, [which] helps the NFL identify qualified women to join its next generation of leaders," Leslie said. "I was accepted and went to Orlando [this past] January for two days of panel discussions, presentations and breakout sessions. It was a very educational experience and it helped me gain knowledge about various fields within the NFL that I was interested in, such as strength and conditioning, scouting and coaching.
"That weekend help solidify my desire to pursue a career in the NFL. Since then, I was able to make some invaluable connections, with individuals such as Sam Rappaport, NFL senior director of football development, and Scott Pioli, assistant general manager of the Atlanta Falcons. Sam and I have been in contact since the Forum and she was a huge advocate of mine. Because of her advocacy I was able to go to the Chicago Bears' training facility to watch practice and meet some of the players and coaches. After that experience, the opportunity to intern with the New York Jets was introduced to me and it is an offer I could not be more grateful for."
Leslie assisted the Jets' Scouting Department throughout training camp. "I was responsible for learning the ins and outs of football scouting, operations and analytics," she said. "The Jets taught me how to identify and differentiate between players. I learned how to evaluate the talent of football players and the critical factors for each position. With that, I was then in charge of writing weekly scouting reports for the position group I was assigned. In these reports, I had to differentiate and articulate different athlete body types, list their strengths and weakness and evaluate where this player stood on making our roster. It warranted a high attention to detail and helped me look at football from a different lens."
Leslie spent six weeks with the Jets, throughout training camp.
"I also learned that football at this level is made possible by the countless efforts of hundreds of people," she said. "Everyone is here putting in the long hours to help do what they can to make the team successful. It was pretty unreal to get a glimpse of what all goes on. I love football and have been a fan of the sport my whole life. As a fan, we just see what happens on game day. I had the pleasure of interacting with so many different departments while I was here, whether you are in the business department, equipment, operations, video etc, [and] everyone is working extremely hard day in, day out. It was truly one team, one goal around here."
Leslie, with a strong passion for fitness and nutrition, asked the Jets' strength and conditioning coach out to lunch to talk about his role and what his workload entailed. "I was expecting a 'No,' but instead, Coach [Justus] Galac welcomed the opportunity to share his knowledge. I learned so much in that hour about his role and how he manages to balance his job and family. He then invited me to sit in on the players' workout. It was definitely one of my highlights while being here. Justus and his two assistant coaches, Aaron [McLaurin] and Joe [Giacobbe], were very knowledgeable. They are always busy, but were so open to answer any questions that I had and I was never made to feel like I was wasting their time. I was grateful for that."
Leslie is convinced that women are capable of holding more "nontraditional" roles in the NFL. "We might have to work harder to get there, but it is not unrealistic," she said. "I learned that the most important thing is winning. If what you bring to the table will help the success of the team, then you are an asset, regardless of your sex.
"Some people are skeptical when it comes to having women in football and as a woman, when you get your foot in the door, there tends to be an even larger focus on the fact that you are a woman. My focus is putting in the work and making sure I work hard and have there be no question whether or not I belong there. I wish I could say me being a female shouldn't matter, but it does. It matters to me, it matters to the other women trying to pursue a career in this field and sports in general and it matters to that little girl that turns on the television. It's crucial that our young girls can see representations of women in the media, that they can see a female referee or coach during an NFL game and ultimately see what is possible."
Leslie also is a proud representative of the LGBT community, as she's an out, married lesbian.
"I was open about my sexuality my entire time with the New York Jets and was never once made to feel uncomfortable or less than," she said. "I shared with some of the coaches, players and staff that my wife was pregnant with our son and I got several congratulations and tips on the best products my wife and I will need once our son is here. Several of them also gave me insight on what life would be like having a career in the NFL while trying to make time for your family. I am grateful for their inclusivity and affirmation of the LGBTQ community."
Leslie added, "I'm so grateful that Sam Rappaport and the New York Jets saw something in me that allowed me to earn this opportunity. Being a minority in nearly every space I have played sports in, worked in, and trained in, I understand the importance of including as many people from different walks of life as possible. What people see on camera and on sports teams is what they see as possible. Without such representation, future generations won't know what is possible. My son will be here in November and when he grows up, I want him to be able to turn the television and see someone who he can relate to and I hope I could offer that now to some little girl or boy."
Despite a taste of NFL life, Leslie has certainly not forgotten her Force roots.
"The Force is the reason why I'm experiencing this amazing opportunity," she said. "I was coached by the best coach in women's football, [John Konecki]. I learned so much from Coach K and I believe having him as my coach and utilizing all that I've learned from him will help me on my path to a career in the NFL. I would also say, the Force helped me grow into the woman I am today. I started on that team at a very young age. I had the opportunity play and be mentored by some amazing women who were older and wiser than me. Linda Bache, Rosalyn Bennett, Pam Schaffrath, Jessica Mcpeake, and Keesha Brooks played pivotal roles in my development as a player and a young adult. If it wasn't for them and the Force, I'm not sure what my life would look like today."
Former Force owner Linda Bache was the first person Leslie called to tell her about the Jets' gig.
"Linda has been a big part of my life since I joined the Force [and] the one who suggested I apply for the Forum in January, and she is the one who wrote my letter of recommendation," Leslie said. "She's always had my back and has only wanted the best for me. I'm not sure what will come from this internship, but I do know I am grateful for Linda and for all that she has done for women's football and all that she continues to do for me."
Leslie said she developed good friendships with some of the Jets, such as Leonard Williams and Trumaine Johnson.
"I was able to interact with the players and coaches daily," she said. "Coach [Todd] Bowles is a great man, very knowledgeable about the sport and his players. I would chat with him several times a week. Since I was there as a scouting intern, I would be assigned a different position group each week and had to write scouting reports about each player in that position. This meant that each week I was interacting with a new set of players. Daily I had the chance to spend time with Coach [Karl] Dorrell, Coach [Jimmie] Johnson, several of the other coaches and in time, all the players. I got to know many of the coaches and players on an individual level, as we ate all three meals together in addition to spending countless hours together on and off the field."