Book excerpt: Ex-Raiders CEO Amy Trask reflects on gender bias in unusual places
This excerpt from You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League by Amy Trask with Mike Freeman is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/AmyTrask.
Some very prominent men—some of whom are in the Hall of Fame, some of whom were or still are associated with the Raiders, and some of whom never were—attempted for years to get Al [Davis] to fire me. I know this because Al told me. He would giggle as he told me of the former coach, the former personnel executive, and a number of others who periodically urged him to get rid of me.
Yes, Al giggled.
Was some of that resistance gender based? I don’t know. I never spent any time considering whether or not it was. Over the years, a number of men and women I respect have shared with me that they did and they do believe that such resistance was gender based. Somewhat recently, a few tremendously accomplished, successful women shared with me experiences they had with one of these men in particular, experiences which astonished me and which most certainly suggest gender bias. If this man communicated to these women that they weren’t welcome in meetings in which their male counterparts were welcome and that they were not qualified to do their jobs because of their gender, then it’s certainly plausible to think that he may have held the same views about me. So some of this resistance may have been gender-based. But if gender was the cause of such resistance, would I have changed my approach or conducted myself any differently? I am certain that the answer to that question is no.
I have been told that I should have expressed an objection or protested any time I perceived a gender-based slight. The best protest is to succeed. My time and energy was best spent focusing on doing my job as best I could.
Many people are surprised when I tell them that I never experienced what I believed to be any gender-based resistance from players, whether Raiders or those on other teams. Although others find this surprising, I do not. Players evaluate their teammates and others on performance. Are you blocking your man? Are you covering your receiver? Are you doing your job? Of course I recognize that Raiders players were aware of my working relationship with Al and the confidence he had in me, but that was not the case with all players throughout the league and yet they too accepted me without regard to gender. When I left, I was touched by how many former and current players contacted me—far more than I would ever have imagined.
One incident in which my gender was alluded to stands out, perhaps because I was surprised by the hypocrisy of it. Sometime not too long after DeMaurice Smith was first elected head of the players’ association, he and a group of union employees visited our facility to meet with our players. DeMaurice wished to speak with Al, but Al was unavailable and he asked me to greet DeMaurice in his stead.
As I approached DeMaurice, one of the men in his group stepped between us, in what was an obvious effort to block me from DeMaurice and to keep me from speaking to him. As he inserted himself between us, this union employee asked: “Whose secretary are you?” Now this was 2009 or 2010. But whether it was 2009 or 2010, it was not 1940 or 1950. Whose secretary are you?
I just stared at him.
As I stood there stunned, considering how to proceed, Nolan Harrison (also a union employee and a former Raider) spotted me from across the room where he was speaking with a player, rushed over, and wrapped me in a giant hug.
I don’t know whether Nolan had noticed the interaction just described or whether he rushed over simply because he saw me and wanted to say hello.
Nolan introduced me to the group of union employees, including the man who blocked me from introducing myself to DeMaurice. That man stepped aside a smidge—but he didn’t say anything, not a word. So let’s get this straight: the union – the very organization that advocates that owners and management should treat its members respectfully and professionally (which they should)—had on its staff at least one person who concluded that because I am a woman, I must have been someone’s secretary? What did that tell me about the union leadership at that time? It told me that while advocating for respect for some, they weren’t affording that to all.
As a quick aside, my history with Nolan involved the police and a gun aimed at me. I know that Nolan will not object to me sharing this story, as the only law he may have broken was that he may have been driving a bit over the speed limit, but no speeding ticket was issued. It was September 1994. We had played our season opener on a Monday night, in San Francisco. During the game, one of our players, Napoleon McCallum, suffered a terrible injury. I was told at the time it was life-threatening. I remember Napoleon laying on the field and Ken Norton Jr., who had tackled Napoleon, lying absolutely still under him for what seemed to be an eternity. Our medical staff had advised Ken that it was imperative that he stay absolutely still while they worked to stabilize Napoleon’s leg so that he could be transported to the hospital. Ken did not move and he did his best to keep Napoleon’s leg from moving. I’ve had a soft spot for Ken Norton Jr. since that day.
We lost the game—badly. Jerry Rice set all sorts of records. It was a long night. We arrived back at the Los Angeles International Airport in the early-morning hours on Tuesday and then went to our facility to get our cars. As I was driving home, I saw police lights in my rearview mirror and immediately experienced that stomach-in-your-mouth feeling that you get when you think you are getting a ticket. I noticed, though, that there was a car between mine and the police car and I quickly realized that it was one of our players. It was Nolan.
I immediately pulled to the side of the road just in front of Nolan, jumped from my car, and started running towards the policeman as he was approaching Nolan’s car. The officer immediately drew his gun, pointed it directly at me, and commanded me to stop where I was and to display my hands, which I did.
It certainly wasn’t unreasonable for a policeman to be concerned that someone running towards him in that situation might be armed. Even a small woman can have a gun.
I stopped dead in my tracks and I began speaking very quickly—even more quickly than I normally speak. I was blabbering that we had just played—and lost—a very emotional football game, that one of our teammates suffered a gruesome injury and was hospitalized in San Francisco. I just kept talking and talking. At one point, I looked at Nolan through the windshield of his car and saw him laughing, but trying not to let me see that he was. The officer holstered his gun. I thought that was a good sign so I approached him—more slowly this time—and I talked some more. Nolan just watched and smiled. Nolan didn’t get a ticket. I didn’t get shot.
So it was fitting that Nolan was present when the union representative was barring my path to DeMaurice. I’ll note though, that Nolan did not have to face a gun, as I did when I assisted him.
ONE SILLY INSTANCE IN WHICH my gender was an issue involved a game of indoor football. Not too long after we relocated to Oakland and moved into our new facility, a group of us were relaxing in the hallway. Someone had a Nerf football and we started tossing it around. We then decided to have an impromptu, indoor football game. I grabbed the ball and said to Jim Otto: “Hey Jim, why don’t you be the center?”
I’m quite a scout. I chose the Hall of Fame center, whom the Sporting News named as one of the top 100 best players of all time, to be the center in our indoor Nerf football game. Jim centered the ball and as I walked up to take the snap from under center, he started screaming “shotgun, shotgun, shotgun” in a somewhat high-pitched, shrill tone. Well, that was funny because as those who follow the Raiders know, the Raiders eschewed the shotgun formation, preferring instead to have the quarterback up under center. So, when Jim shouted shotgun, we all knew why he did—he didn’t want me up under center. We all laughed and agreed that this most certainly must have been the first time in the hallowed halls of the Raiders—literally, the halls—that someone had called for a shotgun formation.
Jim played his first season for the Raiders in 1960, the year before I was born. There were no women involved in football during those years. Over the course of his life and his career, times had changed. Like Willie Brown, Jim and many others were experiencing a paradigm shift. Yet never once during my career did Willie or Jim or other Hall of Fame Raiders from a different era—Ted Hendricks, Gene Upshaw, George Blanda, Art Shell, or Fred Biletnikoff—seem bothered by my gender. We didn’t always agree about business matters. We had different views on a number of issues. Yet these men conducted themselves as if my gender was irrelevant. Jim just didn’t want me up under center. He wanted me in shotgun.
Again, I recognize that these men, like current players, were aware of my working relationship with Al and the confidence he had in me, but these were older, Hall of Fame players who did not have to concern themselves with “the boss’s” views.
NOT EVERY REFERENCE TO MY gender was as inconsequential. I found it both surprising and interesting that when I joined the organization, the strongest resistance I encountered was from the media covering the Raiders at that time. I was also surprised by the intensity of that resistance.
I was about 11 years old at the time of the Watergate break-in and I grew up with a tremendous respect for journalists and an appreciation for the importance of the fourth estate. I considered journalism a noble profession, and for a period of time considered becoming a journalist. I think that it is because I held journalists in such high regard that I was as surprised as I was by this resistance.
Over the years, when I have shared with female journalists and women in the media that I was surprised by the level of resistance from their male counterparts, they have looked at me as if I were nuts, and they have laughed. These women experienced this resistance on a regular basis. It was their reality. For some women, this still is their reality. I have a better understanding of this now than I did during my years with the Raiders and certainly, a much better understanding than I did when I began my career.
One day very early in my career, I walked outside to the practice field to share some news with Al. It was toward the end of practice and as I waited on the sideline for an opening to speak with him, I stood near Gene Upshaw, who was watching practice that day. Gene was one of the best offensive linemen in the history of football, a Hall of Fame player, and a Raider—a true Raider. He passed away in 2008.
A group of writers stood near us and one walked closer and asked Gene in a very loud voice, clearly intended to carry, “What’s it like having a girl working for the team?”
Gene towered over most people at 6’5” and 255 pounds. Standing next to Gene was like standing next to a pillar of granite. He looked as if he were chiseled from stone. His glare could wither people.
Gene looked down at this writer and in an even louder, booming voice said: “She’s not a girl, she’s a Raider.”