Sam Rapoport recently tweeted something her boss, Troy Vincent, reminds her on a regular basis: “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice.”

That just about sums up Rapoport’s life mission in football, now Senior Director, Football Development for NFL Football Operations. The Montreal native found her passion for football at an early age, yet she also saw precious few role models of women in her favorite sport. Now working for the NFL, Rapoport’s expressed purpose is to build opportunities for women in the NFL and open doors across a sport that has for so long been seen as an all-boys club.

“Our mission is to be the greatest competitive sport in the world,” Rapoport previously told People. The magazine named her one of the 25 women changing the world in 2017. “In order to achieve that, we understand that a critical priority is diversity and inclusion.”

While Rapoport is focused on building inclusion for women specifically, that has translated into inclusion for LGBTQ people as well. In 2017 Katie Sowers became the first publicly out NFL coach, and she’s now worked two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Sowers was Outsports’ Female Hero Of The Year in 2017.

If not for the efforts of Rapoport and the diversity team at the NFL, Sowers may have never gotten the equal opportunity she earned and deserved. Many other women — LGBTQ and otherwise — will find their way into football now because of the efforts of the NFL, and Rapoport specifically.

“Our ultimate goal is to normalize females on the sidelines in football,” Rapoport told People. “So we reach the day where… it’s just normal and girls grow up seeing these women on the sidelines in these incredible positions.”

In turn that will, through women like Sowers, continue to normalize LGBTQ people being on those same sidelines too.

For her dedication to the inclusion of women in North America’s most popular sports league, her promotion of LGBTQ people in football, and her willingness to be out in a league with so few out LGBTQ role models, Sam Rapoport is Outsports’ 2018 Female Hero of the Year.

Runners-up: Hockey coach Shannon Miller, Canisius College runner Emily Scheck.

Previous Outsports Female Athlete Of The Year winners:

2017 — San Francisco 49ers coach Katie Sowers
2016 — Basketball player Elena Delle Donne
2015 — Basketball player Layshia Clarendon
2014 — NCAA administrator Karen Morrison

Outsports has divided year-end Athlete and Hero awards to highlight accomplishments of people across genders. We understand that not everyone fits into the binary gender world currently established in sports, and we will honor that with additional awards when appropriate.