By Ann Killion
San Francisco Chronicle.
The NFL held its first ever “Women’s Summit” on Thursday morning. The setting was lovely — the ornate Beaux Arts Julia Morgan Ballroom atop the Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco’s Financial District. The room was packed, primarily with women, which is a rare event at a Super Bowl function.
And the presentation was about as safe and tame as you might expect from the league.
Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke, but didn’t take any questions from the crowd or from the media in attendance.
Condoleezza Rice followed him and trotted out just about every cliche about sports and character-building that you could imagine.
But there would be no discussion of the NFL’s Great Women Problem. The bubbling, troubling issues that underlie the statistics about how many “women’s style” jerseys are sold, about what percentage of the NFL audience is women.
There was no talk about the CTE scandal that is causing more and more mothers to turn their sons away from football. There was no talk about the domestic violence and sexual abuse issues that have rocked the league, yet seem to carry far less importance to Goodell than the internal pressure of footballs.
Instead, there was peppy discussion about girls’ participation in sports, about the benefits of leadership and team building in sports. That’s all very important and always worth discussing. But exactly how those issues relate directly to the NFL remains a little unclear.
However, it feels good to talk about them. It definitely does not feel good to talk about CTE or domestic violence.
Goodell said he wanted his 14-year old twin daughters to play sports because it encourages girls that “if you get knocked down to get back up.”
That’s not the issue when it comes to the NFL and knocking females down.
Goodell did make one piece of news. After introducing Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first female game official, and Jen Welter, who coached with the Arizona Cardinals last preseason, Goodell announced that the NFL would adopt a “Rooney Rule” for women.
The Rooney Rule requires minority candidates to be considered in coaching hires. This version would require that women be considered among the candidate pool for executive positions in the league.
That’s a good step, because the more women involved in front offices or at the league level, the less likely that the other issues that directly affect women will be swept under the NFL’s plush rug. If a woman had been in the room when Goodell handed down a two-game punishment to former Ravens running back Ray Rice for abusing his fiancee, the decision might have been different.
Former Raiders CEO Amy Trask had a suggestion. Rather than call this new development another “Rooney Rule” why not call it the Al Davis Rule? After all, Davis was a pioneer when it came to overlooking gender as well as race.
“It never ceases to both amaze and sadden me that everyone doesn’t evaluate others, whether for a job opportunity or otherwise, without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, etc.,” Trask said. “We shouldn’t need rules to do what is both right and smart. When Al Davis hired me in the mid-’80s, he didn’t need a rule to encourage him to do so.”
But the NFL needs rules, or pressure, to do the right thing. Goodell eventually slipped out a side door midway through the program. While he was in the room, no uncomfortable topics — issues that he has largely mishandled during his tenure as commissioner — were raised.
The event was well produced and a valuable topic. Having the enormous Super Bowl spotlight turned on women’s sports is important and, as legend Billie Jean King and Angela Hucles, the acting president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, pointed out, there is still plenty of work left to do.
King urged the NFL to support women’s professional leagues, which need the time and financial backing to grow. Hucles pointed out that “even though Title IX was passed, we haven’t been allowed to finish the job.”
And the highlight of the morning was a poet named Holly Peterson (stage name HK Poet) who played women’s tackle football and presented a poem called “The Sisterhood of Sport.”
But for the most part the event could have been a Women’s Sports Foundation event. It was women speaking to women about women. The event was, at best, familiar territory, at worst pandering.
“I wanted to address the topic, ‘How can I fall in love again with the NFL?'” said one woman in the audience.
That’s the NFL’s real issue with women. But it wasn’t addressed.