There are Super Bowl ads and racy NFL calendar spreads aimed at women, the Cleveland Browns have Ladies' Chalk Talk and there's even a women's football fan magazine called Audible. Women NFL fans have arrived.
Hannah Gordon is not your typical football fan. She's the Director of Legal Affairs for the San Francisco 49ers. Prior to this, she worked for the National Football League's Management Council during the NFL Lockout.
As the 49ers head into the Playoffs against New Orleans this weekend, excitement is running high in the front office. Gordon and I talked about loving football and what it's like being a woman in the business of football.
Gordon discovered football when she was at UCLA and ended up with that much coveted beat for the UCLA newspaper.
"I grew up in a family that did not watch football and I vaguely recall watching a couple of games on my own in high school. I remember thinking -- this seems really interesting -- but I didn't really understand the game. When I got to UCLA, I was super homesick and I was living in my little 10-by-10 foot dorm room and I started watching a lot of sports. That was during the first year of the Lakers three-peat so I started watching a lot of basketball and football and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to major in, what do I want to be when I grow up. I knew I enjoyed writing and I was just starting to fall in love with sports. I was watching Hannah Storm host the halftime show during one of those championship games and I thought -- That looks like a really cool job. That's what I want to do.
I really loved writing, but at the same time I was falling in love with football just watching it on television. I had danced growing up and to me, dance is this wonderful combination of athletics and art. Football is very much this combination of athletic ability and brains because it's like a chess match. There's so much going on. It's so nuanced and [about] trying to figure out what other people are doing."
From the UCLA Daily Bruin, Hannah went to an internship with the Raiders and then to Stanford for law. Her love of sports kept growing and we took some time during our conversation to break down exactly what the appeal is for her.
"I think the chemistry of a team is very interesting. You learn a lot about human beings, about their strengths and weaknesses when they are challenged. Also, I've written some law review articles in the past about different social issues in terms of diversity in sport and I think sports is a great ... what's the word I'm looking for? I don't want to say sports is a great microcosm of society, but sports are usually one step ahead of where we're going. If you look at the history of football and integration in football, I think that it's always been one step ahead of where society was going to go. It's such an interesting place because it's one of the few places where if you have kids and you put them in sports, they're able to form friendships and bonds over the sport in a way that you don't see happening outside of that context. They may all break up into different cliques in high school, but while they're playing sports they really form very close bonds. When you look at the lack of diversity in hiring of head football coaches, there are all sorts of interesting issues that you can explore through sport. Which I don't do now that I'm a lawyer in an organization, but it still fascinates me."
As a woman in top-level administration for professional sports, Gordon isn't alone, but she is one of the few. Her experience so far has left her with a deep appreciation for the skills, energy and commitment of the people she's worked with.
"There aren't a lot of women in the front office and there are no women on the football side. I actually think in our organization there are probably more than I've been exposed to in a lot of other places. When I was at the League office in my department, we'd be sitting there in meetings and I'd be the only woman. It's funny because I wouldn't notice it until somebody else said something. Somebody would say something like, 'We can't be stepping on our Johnson here.' And people would look at me -- 'Are we not supposed to say that?' I would just kind of say, 'What does that even really mean?' I just think it's funny how people react.
I really liked that environment. As a woman in a male dominated industry, you have to enjoy men and male energy in order to thrive there, otherwise you would probably be pretty miserable. But it's certainly nice when there are other women around. My boss now [Patty Inglis] is the first female boss I've ever had. She's incredibly supportive and our relationship is almost like a coach and a player."
Talking with Hannah inspired me, but I'll never be a 49ers fan. For me, football always meant going to the Meadowlands with my dad to eat sandwiches and watch the Giants play. My daughters didn't know about this part of my life. But the game is still the same. Only now, my kids laugh to see me drinking a beer and yelling at the television.
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