Why every NFL owner should be more like Al Davis when hiring new coaches
Since 2003, the NFL’s Rooney Rule has mandated that teams interview at least one minority candidate when conducting head coaching and some front office employment searches. I believed when it was adopted, just as I believe now, that it is reprehensible that some must be required to do that which is right.
I worked for a man in Al Davis who did not need a mandate to hire and provide opportunity for advancement without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, religious belief or age. He did so for decades, well before others, and long before the league adopted its mandate. He hired Tom Flores, the first Hispanic American head coach, in 1979, he hired Art Shell, the first African American head coach of the modern era, in 1989, and he hired me on a full time basis in 1987.
Al engendered both respect and enmity but no matter what one thinks of him, I believe that we should all agree that he set a tremendous example in this regard. The example he set is one that should be followed not only in the sports world, but by all businesses.
From the day I began my internship with the Raiders in the mid ’80s, I comported myself without regard to gender and I believe that Al evaluated me without regard to gender. He certainly swore at me, yelled at me and treated me as he did my male colleagues, which is precisely what one should hope.
On one occasion, when explaining to a few people that he didn’t swear at women, he noted that he did swear at me and explained that he didn’t think of me as a woman. Case closed. When we disagreed, when we argued, when we discussed situational football, when we discussed clock management, when we chit chatted, when we swore at one another, my gender was never an issue.
Over the course of the three decades for which I worked for him, I spoke with Al about his beliefs and his hiring practices, and he made clear that he thought it was both wrong and dumb to exclude anyone based upon the characteristics set forth above. He was correct: It is wrong and it is dumb.
Al did not consider his practices to be remarkable. He believed they should be the norm and was somewhat dismayed that they were not. There were occasions when he perceived that I was treated disparately because of my gender, and he was not shy about hurling invective when he did. On one occasion very early in my career, a lawyer for another business suggested that I “get the sandwiches.” I didn’t need to think of a response, because Al immediately excoriated him as I sat and smiled.
I respect Dan Rooney, I enjoyed working with Dan Rooney, and I like Dan Rooney. I emphasize my respect and fondness for Dan to make clear that when I suggested to the league at the time the rule was adopted that it really should be named the Al Davis rule, I did not do so because of a lack of respect for Dan but rather, because Al had been conducting himself in that manner for decades.
As we enter this league hiring cycle, I hope that more league owners and executives approach hiring and advancement as Al did. There should be no need for a rule requiring people to do the right thing and I hope that soon we will not need one.
Amy Trask was the CEO of the Oakland Raiders from 1997 to 2013, an organization she served for 25 years. Trask is currently a sports analyst for CBS Sports Network and the author of You Negotiate Like a Girl, set to be released in September 2016.