Since graduating with a Master's degree from the University of Washington in 2010, Christianne Harder has worked for the football programs at Stanford and Washington. She currently is consulting for Western Kentucky's football program on its recruiting and social networking programs. She was one of the 159 applicants for the job former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino gave to Jessica Dorrell, the woman with whom Petrino had an inappropriate relationship.
I was perusing a football fan site earlier this month when I saw the post "Bobby Petrino didn't mention the 25-year-old female with him when he crashed." I clicked on the link and read that the person who was riding with the Arkansas coach was his new Student-Athlete Development Coordinator. "Damn it!" I thought, "Jessica Dorrell just screwed me."
How could the actions of a woman I've never met hurt me?
I've worked in college football in recruiting and social media for three years. Since I earned my Master's from the University of Washington's Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership program, I have navigated a world where very few women land jobs other than administrative assistants. Thanks to Dorrell's hiring, and the subsequent outing of an inappropriate relationship with Petrino, she has now unintentionally set all women who work in college football back. As if getting a job in college football wasn't hard enough.
For the most part, college football is still a man's world. While other college sports have some sort of female equivalent where both genders hold coaching positions, football does not. Though a few women work in team operations or recruiting, very few hold director titles. There are a small number of operations assistants who are women, and an even smaller number working in recruiting. I know of no woman who holds a Director of Player Personnel title in the country. So it was maddening when I looked at the press release issued by Arkansas about the hiring of Dorrell. One of the most sought after positions in the country, head of recruiting for Arkansas Football, had gone to a woman! This was unprecedented.
Full disclosure: I applied for this job. I wanted to know why I didn't even get a phone interview. Naturally, I checked out Dorrell's public bio. She had never worked in a football office in any capacity. She came from a fundraising background, which demands skills that translate very well to recruiting, but hands-on experience is a prerequisite. How do I know this? I worked in fundraising for four years. Clearly, if Dorrell hadn't been engaged in a relationship with Petrino, there would be no story. People get jobs they aren't qualified for in football all the time. But she was romantically involved with him, and that's why she got the job.
What I suspect Jessica Dorrell failed to realize, not being a woman in football, is what a gift she was given. She never had to struggle to get her foot in the door, work for free or move away from her home to a school with which she had no connection in pursuit of her dream. Who knows if working in football even was her dream. She had no idea that her actions will have lasting implications for women across the country. Her decision to continue seeing Petrino proves she had no concept of the gravity of her indiscretions. A true football chick, as I like to call us, would have never done such a thing. Our jobs are too important to us because they are so hard to get.
There are two major unspoken rules for a woman in a football office. The first is that you watch what you wear. Left to my own devices, I wear professional, knee length dresses and heels to the football office. This worked at Stanford. But at Washington, anything dressier than jeans was not OK, as it was seen as a "distraction" in the office. I soon learned that my best bet was to always wear pants and flats.
The second unspoken rule of women in football is be careful of how -- and where -- you engage with the coaches. Football professionals work long hours, especially during the season, and we travel with the team. By being one of a few women in an office full of men, you do everything you can to not put yourself in a situation that could be misconstrued as inappropriate. Any football chick will tell you that we have no interest whatsoever in compromising our hard-earned titles for any man who works in coaching -- we are going to be the football guru in our households thank-you-very-much -- outsiders certainly look for signs of impropriety. Thanks to Dorrell's relationship with Petrino, they will be looking even harder now for things that, in the vast majority of professional situations, simply do not exist.
Earlier this month, I was supposed to have dinner with a coach from another football program. We had met in an airport coming back from the American Football Coaches Association Convention, and he loved my work at WKU, so we stayed in touch. We were finally going to get together to talk. Then the Petrino story broke. I had expressed my frustration to him about the situation, and what it meant to my future the night before, over text messages. The next day he called to cancel our dinner. I couldn't believe it. Why? The coach said that he respected the hell out of me professionally, but due to the Petrino/Dorrell thing, he didn't want our outing to be misconstrued. He had even talked to his wife about it. Her response? She wanted to see what I thought.
Here is what I thought: This is how Jessica Dorrell's actions have immediately affected my life. She is costing me networking opportunities with powerful people who want to see me succeed. Coaches are cognizant of the effect her indiscretions are going to have on my career, and are trying to protect me -- or perhaps themselves. Will male coaches shun getting to know me because they worry that it could all be misconstrued? Dinners, drinks and talks at conventions and at games are how connections are made. How will I get my foot in the door at another program now?
The bottom line is that perception is reality. Because of Jessica Dorrell's actions, there will be a greater suspicion of all the women who apply and interview for these jobs. Sadly, we don't need another excuse to be unfairly scrutinized.