Q&A: First woman NFL scout saw industry, women’s rights evolve after joining Jets in 1970s

There wasn't much fanfare when Connie Carberg became the first woman to work as a scout in the NFL. But looking back, the former Jets employee sees how far the league has come.

Victoria Hernandez
USA TODAY Sports+

Title IX had barely been signed into legislation and the establishment of the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship was still a decade away. But Connie Carberg made history in 1976 when she became the first official woman scout in the NFL, working for the New York Jets.

Carberg — who's last name was Nicholas when she started in the league — made an impact for the Jets by scouting a lesser-known defensive lineman from East Central University named Mark Gastineau. The Jets selected Gastineau in the second round of the 1979 draft and he went on to become the franchise's sack leader as a member of the "New York Sack Exchange."

Carberg followed the New York team from an early age. Her father was the team's doctor when they were the New York Titans. As a young girl, she interacted with Don Maynard, Emerson Boozer, Matt Snell and the one and only Joe Namath.

When the Jets won Super Bowl III, it solidified the American Football League (AFL) as a legitimate league, but also confirmed Carberg's calling. She would read Street & Smith guides and make her own mock drafts. Carberg memorized stats and transferred from her all-girls school to Ohio State University because she missed football too much. Among her mentors were legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes, Jets Director of Player Personnel Mike Holovak and local science teacher Paul Albert, who taught her the X's and O's as a child.

"Some people say you have to have an example to do it, I didn't think that way," Carberg said, wearing a Jets T-shirt and earrings during a zoom interview with USA TODAY Sports+. "I guess I'm a little bit different than most. I just thought it was very normal. Because I grew up with it and I would work around them and coaches and people, I just feel very — that was my comfort zone was being around football people."

In this photo taken Aug. 7, 2014, Connie Carberg, who served as a scout for the New York Jets from 1976 to 1980, poses near the sideline at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Carberg, the first woman to work as a scout for an NFL team, says the Buffalo Bills' hiring of Kathryn Smith as the league's first full-time female assistant coach is a "great opportunity" for women. (Elisabeth Meinecke via AP) NO SALES

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At the time, Carberg's appointment as a Jets scout wasn't heralded across national media and flaunted as an important step forward in diversity or women’s rights. It was quietly noted in the Sporting News and she was featured in the Ohio State student newspaper. Since then, she's received more attention from various news outlets, a 2017 book "X's and O's Don't Mean I Love You" and an award at the Hula Bowl in 2021.

"The Jets were really way ahead of time in what they did," she said. "And they didn't make a big deal."

After seven years with the team (she officially started in 1974 as a secretary), Carberg left the Jets in 1981 because her husband received a job in Florida. But she always kept sports in her life, coaching her son's T-ball, basketball and flag football teams and girls' junior varsity basketball at the local high school. She remained connected to the Jets, attending training camp every summer until the COVID-19 pandemic.

USA TODAY Sports+ spoke with Carberg about her journey in the NFL, the impact of Title IX, the Jets 2022 draft class, the affects of social media and more.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you fall in love with football?

Connie Carberg: “My father had tried out for the Washington Senators way back. He loved playing baseball. My brothers loved baseball. Back in those days you played baseball, softball or basketball. I did swimming, volleyball, you name it. But football was just not a sport that was done until my father and my uncle became the two team doctors for the Jets when I was 13. I figured I better learn about the sport because I really didn't know that much. And there was no flag football. There was no tackle football or ESPN. It was very different.

”So I decided to start learning, and the Jets were always over at the house, which made it even nicer. Once you meet a player, it makes such a difference. You get really connected. And of course, as time went on, it turned out the guys that I grew up with — Joe Namath and Don Maynard and Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell — all those guys, it turned out to be the Super Bowl team that won when I was a high school senior.”

The New York Jets ?Sack Exchange,? from left, defensive end Joe Klecko, defensive tackles Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam, and defensive end Mark Gastineau, stand reunited during a team practice on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 1982 at the Jets training facility at Hofstra University in Hempstead, L.I. The Jets face the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday.

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX. How have you seen it affect women's opportunities?

CC: “Oh, man, it’s amazing. Because it didn't come until I graduated, it took an extra year since I transferred. It came out, but it hadn't taken shape that much. But they started giving scholarships, which girls never got for sports. That was unheard of. 

“I got to the Jets in ‘74. There were women starting to get into things, but not on the football side. There were women and accountants, but not into the actual football side. It takes a while for the world to accept and catch up, especially back in those days. You have to remember, it was a very different world. You didn't have social media.

“When I got to the Jets, I was a receptionist as well as the scouting secretary. I loved every minute. I loved being receptionist because in those days you got to talk to everybody. Most people didn't have secretaries or assistants. So when I called a team and asked to speak to the head coach or the GM, you went right through. It was very casual. The players came through, you could talk to them. There was just a lot of interaction. Out on the field, there were no security guards. No, it was again, a very, very different time. But I think the Title IX — I keep seeing it on TV now — it really reminds me of how much has changed.”

Dr. Jen Welter (left) and Sarah Thomas meet on the field before a game. The Arizona Cardinals hired Welter as a coaching intern through training camp and the preseason in 2015, the same year Thomas became the first full-time female official in NFL history.

How has the sports industry changed since 1974?

CC: “They’ve come a really long way. Since Bruce Arians when he started with Jen Welter, and that was probably what, six years ago, as an intern. That really started the football side of it. I was in the 70's when they named me to do scouting. There was a long period of time before they really had anybody — they certainly didn't have coaches or anybody announcing or something — and then later on, sideline reporters came into being. That still took a while too. There was only Phyllis George on the pregame show. She was Miss America, she was beautiful. And then Jayne Kennedy, who was beautiful, followed her. They were on the pregame show, but other than that there weren’t a lot of women.

“Some people say you have to have an example to do it, I didn't think that way. I guess I'm a little bit different than most. I just thought it was very normal because I grew up with it. And I would work around coaches and people and I just feel that was my comfort zone was being around football people. I didn't go to my senior prom. I wasn't the homecoming queen type. I played sports. And I just would eat, sleep and drink it and the men were really great to me.”

What is your assessment of the Jets draft this year? 

CC: “I was out at the draft and this past year I went to Vegas. I did the Senior Bowl as well. I know most of these rookies and they were just a great bunch. But when I was at the Senior Bowl, I really liked Jermaine Johnson. The way he acted, the way he played, the way he carried himself, everything about the person he was. And then of course Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner and Garrett Wilson from my The Ohio State University. Then getting Breece Hall, class act, the best running back. Then we got a tight end, which we needed. So I'm really pleased.

“Like Coach Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas said, they wanted to draft guys that were durable because we've had so many injuries, but also who really love the game of football. And football is really important to them, character-wise. I always love that. Obviously you can't measure heart. And that's what I always looked at guys that were nonstop motors, that had a passion. Yes, you want them to also come with the height, weight and speed if they can. But if they were lacking certain things, you might be only about halfway or three quarters of what you want, but they go nonstop every single down. They play. They love their teammates. They are united and just love the game.

“It's more than blocking and tackling. There's also just that chemistry you always hear about with how winning teams just somehow mesh.”

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From left to right, Jermaine Johnson, Ahmad Gardner and Garrett Wilson speak at a New York Jets NFL football draft news conference Friday, April 29, 2022, in Florham Parrk, N.J. (AP Photo/Brittainy Newman)

How did social media change scouting?

CC: “If you go to YouTube or anything, you can just type in a player's name and watch. Back in those days, it was a lot harder. 

“And it's funny, you would think teams wouldn't make mistakes nowadays. They have the combine. They have the Senior Bowl. They have the computers. They have YouTube. They have pro days. They have all those things. And they still make as many mistakes as they did in the ‘70s when they basically just were trying to, “Let’s get Street & Smith and let's watch what's on TV." The scouts for the team were the only ones that really knew what they were bringing for the draft.

"Social media can also connect the players to the fans, and the fans feel like they know them. They love it when they say something. But it also can be a tough thing because there's a lot of anonymous people out on social media that can be very nasty at times — and the language. I've been very blessed. Jets Twitter has been great to me. I can't thank them enough for everything. I mean they’ve been great. But as far as the players, as I said, it's good and bad."

Have you connected with any other women scouts or coaches?

CC: “There's all different people that you stay in touch with. The Giants have a scout, Hannah (Burnett). I think she's the Midwest. So yeah, there's a lot of different women all over the place. And reporters and so many different people now everywhere. I love staying in contact with everybody, whether it's male or female, doesn't matter. As I said, I’m very blessed in the fact that men, the way they treated me, they were always terrific and they still are with me. Sometimes it amazes me.

“This younger generation, when I was at the Senior Bowl, I met so many people. People would say, ‘Connie, we want you to come over and meet this young lady or this guy who's starting out, tell them a few things.’ I was blown away. This is what it's all about, talking to people. Football’s a people business. It's a networking business. And it's a small fraternity. So I may know this one person and the other one doesn't, but then they know that person and then pretty soon you all know one another. So it is really a small world.”

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“Once you're in it, it's a tough life. Because most of them can't stay and they're moving. Their families have to be very understanding. That's why I like the Jets show, Flight 2022. It showed a lot about scouts and what they have to do and their wives. Now, if you're a girl scouting, you either have to have a spouse that’s understanding or be single, whichever works better for you. And that's very important for whichever way it is, somebody's got to give. Even Coach Saleh, it took him 20 years to get the head coaching job. This didn’t happen overnight. Play ball, then coaching, graduate assistant, and working your way. For most people, it takes quite a while. Bruce Arians worked for how many years? Like 30 years before he had his chance to be a head coach. You never know.”

What advice do you have for young people who want to work in sports?

CC: “I'd say that it's a great opportunity for women right now, especially because they're all looking forward to make that splash on every team. So this is the time that they're able to jump in. Pretty soon, it's gonna be pretty normal. Everything will be kind of equal so that who you hire and who you don't hire will not be a big deal, which is the way it should be. But right now, this is the time to get in.

“The other thing is we didn't have internships. I recommend whatever the internship, get your foot in the door. It only takes one person to like you and say, ‘you know what, that person is really good.’ It may not be in the thing that you want it to be at that moment. Or you might find out, ‘Gee wiz, I like this other thing better.’ You might be in community relations and all of a sudden they put you into PR and then they might put you in scouting and then they might put you in a pro or college, there's all different things. I just say be open. Nothing is beneath you. If somebody says, ‘Get me a cup of coffee,’ you get a cup of coffee.

“It's also networking. But also, you have to work hard because there's a million people out there with that degree, so that doesn't do much. You have to show how you're different. Why do they want you over somebody else who also has the same degree? You have a chance to really shine in an internship. Show what you're all about and just let somebody take a liking to your work ethic and that you love the game and have a passion for it and you'll be a success.”