Amy Trask, a former CEO of the Oakland Raiders, is now an analyst for CBS Sports and the CBS Sports Network. Her book, “You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League,” was published in September by Triumph Books. She writes occasional columns for the Chronicle.
For the almost 30 years that I was part of the National Football League, I found very intriguing the manner in which league decisions were made. The league is a collection of 32 separately owned businesses and the structure does not grant any one owner greater authority than another.
For decades, I watched as league executives and a variety of owners worked to build consensus, to form coalitions and to otherwise garner support for or to kill a proposal. I observed arm twisting (in a figurative, not literal sense), horse trading (also in a figurative sense) and other similar organizational behavior. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation borne of many hours in owners’ meetings and the hallways and lobbies outside those meeting rooms.
It is often stated that some owners are more “powerful” than other owners. “Influential” is a more appropriate word and one that shouldn’t necessarily be considered pejorative. While some owners do have and wield greater influence than others, every owner has every right and an equal opportunity to be as involved in league business as he wishes to be.
To read this article in one of Houston’s most-spoken languages, click on the button below.
Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft are perceived to be among two of the most influential owners. That was certainly my experience during my years in the league. That is to their credit.
Earning their influence
Both dedicate a tremendous amount of time working on league matters. And while other owners might not always agree with their recommendations or decisions (and while Jones and Kraft don’t always agree with each other), every owner has the right to roll up his sleeves and work as hard as they do. There is an adage that one should put his money where his mouth is, and if time is money (another adage), Jones and Kraft really do put their money where their mouths are.
Some owners paid considerable sums for their teams, while others simply inherited teams. Some owners have considerable debt sitting on their teams (and stadiums) while others do not. Those factors may impact if and to what extent an owner wishes to commit time, effort and energy to league governance and operations. There isn’t a one-to-one correlation between the amount paid for a team or the amount of debt associated with it and how involved an owner wishes to be in league matters. But there is a healthy correlation and at least a healthy amount of causation.
I am often asked “what do owners think?” about any number of issues. It was my experience that all 32 (30 when I joined the league) did not share the same view on most matters. That said, it was also my experience that most often the collective body of owners reached consensus. I worked for the one owner who during my years routinely and regularly did not join in such consensus.
As the league now evaluates and addresses issues of tremendous importance, the public is being afforded a greater glimpse into those decision-making processes. As one observes how the league navigates these matters, it is important to bear in mind that the commissioner of the league is an employee of 32 businesses and thus of 32 owners. I’m consistently surprised by how infrequently this is addressed.
I can recall only one instance during my decades in the league in which a commissioner was emphatically reminded of that in a group setting. I smile each time I recall a moment during a two per club league when an owner stood up, loomed over a seated commissioner Paul Tagliabue and emphatically stated (while repeatedly jabbing his finger in Paul’s direction), “Hey pal, you work for me.” I was so delighted in that moment that I squirmed and bounced in my chair like an 8-year-old child who was told she could have a slumber party. Al Davis, who many would think would be as or more delighted than I, sternly admonished me, “Calm down, young lady.”
Replacing Goodell not so easy
It has recently been made public that there is consternation among some owners as to the appropriate compensation for the commissioner and there has been speculation that one owner in particular, Jones, would like to replace Roger Goodell with someone else. I don’t believe that a desire to evaluate and adjust compensation necessarily equates to a desire to replace the commissioner. But if owners do decide to make a change, they should first consider and answer this question: And do what? That’s a favorite question of mine (it has even been hash-tagged for me: #AndDoWhat). It’s a question that should be answered when making decisions – in football and in life.
It would be extremely difficult to reach consensus as to whether to make a change. It would be even more difficult to reach consensus as to that extremely important question – and do what? Perhaps even more difficult is working for – reporting to – 32 individuals who are accustomed to being in charge, having final say and ultimate authority.
We are reading and learning of bombastic threats (lawsuits, cease and desist orders, franchise termination, etc.). They make for sensational headlines and sound bites. But I am not at all heated up about the matters that are swirling in the public court. These are routine business matters that are far less explosive than many believe them to be. I believe that ultimately consensus will be reached.