There isn’t a more male-dominated field than professional football, but Leslie Ladd Kime ’08 has been a part of it for the past eight years. She admits it hasn’t been easy. There have been moments of sexism and not being taken seriously. But she has persisted and remained resilient to gain the respect of her male peers in the National Football League.
“You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she said of the learning curve. It was a trait she learned at Culver, she added, which teaches students how to handle difficult situations.
When she started, Kime was the only female scout in the NFL. For eight years, she has been working for the Jacksonville Jaguars as the scouting administration coordinator, watching tape, evaluating players, and assisting with player contracts.
She has gone from being asked to leave the practice field to walking across it while grading players. She has gone from being asked to get the coffee or take down what everyone’s lunch order to being listened to on her assessment of recruits.
“For every great day, there are five good days,” Kime told the assembled students, faculty, and staff on Sunday, which was also International Women’s Day. “And there have been a lot of really bad days.”
Early on, Kime swallowed her pride and got the coffee. She has since gained the respect her peers, coaches, executives.
Now, she is just a few months away from receiving her Master in Business Administration degree from the Darden School at the University of Virginia. It will give her a strategic advantage that very few NFL personnel people have. As a woman in a male-dominated field, she knows it is something that will serve as an advantage.
Her football experience started when she went with her father, Gregory, to the University of Kentucky football games as a little girl. But she never thought about working in the business until her sophomore and junior years at the University of Georgia. She worked as an intern on the business side for the Houston Texans, but soon realized she wanted to pursue a career in the football operations end.
She sent resumes to all 32 NFL teams for a football operations position during her senior year at UGA. The silence was deafening.
So, she moved back home to Lexington, Ky., and used a connection through her father to get an interview at the University of Kentucky to work on a volunteer basis. She did all the “grunt work,” but soon became a paid employee. But just two months into the job, coach Joker Phillips and his entire staff were let go and replaced by Mark Stoops.
Her job was in limbo. “That was very intense,” Kime said of the transition. She was one of the few members of the staff retained. She finished the season in Lexington before hearing from the head of college scouting for the Jaguars. She met with “13 or 14” different people before being offered a scouting job.
She was inside the fraternity, but it didn’t mean it was going to be easy. The pay was low, the hours long, and the respect had to be earned.
“You have to be on your toes,” Kime said. One of the most “humiliating” experiences she had early in her career was escorting two summer scouting interns on to the practice field during training camp. They were going to be there for just over three weeks. She was a full-time employee.
“I was told that I had to go behind the ropes and stand with the wives and girlfriends of the players,” she said. It was one of those times when she was ready to just say “I’m done. But I never gave up.” She is now on the field timing and evaluating players. “I earned the right to be there.”
She does credit men like Chris Polian, who was director of pro personnel with the Jaguars, with serving as her mentors and “protectors.”
And she is not naïve enough to think the opposition will not continue. There has yet to be a female director of scouting or a general manager. That is why she is pursuing the MBA, to give her a competitive advantage. As a woman, she knows she needs that extra “leverage.”
Plus, she told students, don’t overlook the help that can be provided by connections like the Culver alumni network. “I think it is a combination of what you know and who you know,” Kime said of getting a new job. “Culver has an amazing pipeline. There are people who can at least help you get in the door.”
But when comes to doing the job, “you have to earn your stripes,” she said. And there are times, you have to keep your cool. But you also have to show people you will not be pushed around. She said she would do that one-on-one and in private.
She married Michael “Momo” Kime ’10 in 2019. They did not date while they were at Culver, although they knew each other. They did not start dating until 2018. He played football at United States Military Academy and completed his five years of active duty. The Kimes have moved to Washington, D.C., and she is currently transitioning out of her role with Jacksonville.
Kime doesn’t know if she has broken down any barriers by pursuing her dream. But she does hope her efforts will make it easier for the next woman looking for a position on the football side of the NFL.
“We definitely are not there yet,” she said, adding more women will come. “I just want to make their lives a little bit easier.”