Jennifer Garner sought out Megan Rogers—the Browns’ money manager—to prepare for her role in Draft Day. But her on-screen relationship with the leading man has left some women sports executives unable to suspend disbelief
A few days before Draft Day began filming last summer, Jennifer Garner walked through the Browns’ facility and made a beeline for the office of Megan Rogers, Cleveland’s salary cap manager. “Megan,” pleaded the movie’s leading lady. “I want to know exactly what you do.”
Rogers was in the middle of working on rookie contracts. The last thing she wanted was to leak confidential information, or worse, have phone numbers and personal data get out.
“OK,” Rogers said. “Give me 10 minutes.”
Rogers sifted through spreadsheets, fudging numbers and names, and then summoned the Hollywood actress back in. For the next hour, and over several other salary cap sessions, Rogers taught Garner about signing bonuses, the rookie wage scale, and guarantees.
“Also, what it means to hit the cap,” Garner says. “Truth is, before shooting this movie or meeting Megan, I knew nothing.”
Draft Day, as you probably know from its full-on promotional blitz, tells the fictional story of beleaguered Browns general manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) and his time-ticking mission to reinvigorate the even more beleaguered franchise. It features famous faces (a laudable, albeit small role by Arian Foster, plus cameos from Jim Brown and just about every NFL Network analyst) and unprecedented access (a full scene at Radio City Music Hall in which Roger Goodell announces picks).
The movie also features Garner as front office exec Ali Parker—not only a romantic interest of the general manager’s, but also a valued voice in key football business decisions. It is an underpublicized aspect of the movie, but an important one, as the role of gender and the NFL still generates news.
Screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman created the character because some of the most passionate NFL fans they know are women. The NFL has said women now account for nearly half of its fan base, with 375,000 attending NFL games each weekend. “It was a no-brainer for us to include a woman who not only knows her stuff, but also affects the details of this story,” Joseph says. “And someone our protagonist can lean on.” They loosely based Garner’s character on former Browns employee Dawn Aponte (now Miami’s executive vice president of football administration). Rogers, an Aponte protégée, emerged as a key resource throughout filming.
Yet Draft Day also sheds light on the NFL’s inclusion of women at the highest level. Title IX is nearly 42 years old, and its impact has been nothing short of revolutionary. However, the law’s ancillary effects—accepting women as decision-makers, managers and executives in sports—has been more evolutionary, especially in male-dominated sports such as football. According to the NFL, there were 72 women in team or league office positions at the vice president level or above in 2013. It’s an impressive number, but only a handful of those positions are in football operations (many are VPs of community relations or marketing).
“There are more and more women in front offices, and so I don’t think it’s implausible for Hollywood to portray a woman in this role,” says Katie Blackburn, executive VP of the Bengals and one of the highest-ranking woman executives in pro football. “In fact, it’s probably a good thing to show this is becoming more commonplace. However, for accuracy in the portrayal, I’ll need to give it some leeway. It is Hollywood, after all.”
Blackburn hasn’t seen the movie yet, but received a report from her mother. “She kept using the word entertaining,” says Blackburn, the daughter of Bengals owner Mike Brown. And although Parker is portrayed as strong and respected—in many scenes, she is the reasoned voice to Weaver’s melodramatic quest for the perfect draft pick—one plot point has raised concerns: Parker is in a relationship with the Brown’s GM and pregnant with his child.
“When I read the synopsis, I felt queasy,” says Jean Afterman, an assistant general manager of the Yankees. “Any woman in a front office would not be respected if she were sleeping with the GM—even if they were in a committed relationship. I find it completely unacceptable.”
Rogers has seen the movie twice, and wasn’t as bothered.
“They definitely take some liberties,” she says, “But they did a good job with the accuracy of what a salary cap expert does, strictly from a job standpoint.”
For that, the screenwriters owe Rogers a big assist. They took pictures of her office, pried about work-appropriate attire (Garner is smartly dressed in knee-length skirts, heels and tucked-in blouses), and even adopted tidbits from Roger’s professional life into the script—excluding, of course, the romantic relationship.
In one scene Denis Leary, the Browns coach, sits with Garner in the cafeteria and parts of her backstory are revealed, including the fact that she went to law school. “We totally stole that from Megan,” Joseph says. “One day we asked her, ‘How do you become a salary cap manager?’ She told us and we were like, ‘Shoot, we gotta add that to our script.’ ”
This line of Garner’s was also poached from Rogers, “Here’s when I get happy: when the salary cap comes in under 125 million dollars. That’s when I smile.”
Garner took notes anytime she spoke to Rogers, and benefited from filming much of the movie in the Browns’ facility. “So many random times, I’d go in and ask questions, ‘Is this something you would say? Is this how you would act?’ ” Garner says. “As much as I felt like I could without impinging on what she needed to do to actually get her job done.”
The two became friends and remain in touch via email. Just last week, as Garner was jet-setting across the country on a whirlwind promotional tour, the actress sent a note to Rogers: “I know you like to keep things private, and that I keep talking about you, but I really think that you are the coolest and I modeled my character after you.”
For the most part, at least by Hollywood’s standards, Garner did just that.