Amy Trask talks about the significance of the Bills’ promotion of Kathryn Smith, and reflects on her own experiences working in the NFL. 

By Amy Trask
January 21, 2016

Do I believe that Kathryn Smith’s promotion to the position of Special Teams Quality Control Coach by the Buffalo Bills is significant? Yes, I do. But what will be even more significant? When the hiring and promotion of qualified individuals without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age and other characteristics that have no bearing on one’s performance at work is no longer notable.

It is wrong to consider such characteristics when hiring and promoting. It is also dumb. Those who categorically refuse or fail to hire or promote qualified individuals based upon such irrelevant characteristics are wrongly eliminating vast numbers of people who can contribute. Again: this is dumb. 

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I have also been asked whether I believe that players will accept Smith. If my experience in the league is an indication of the reception she will receive from players, the answer is yes. I never encountered anything I believed to be gender-based resistance during any of my interactions with players (Raiders or otherwise) during an almost 30 year period. I never sensed that players treated me any differently than my male counterparts. Did we always agree with one another? Of course not. But did I sense that our differences were in any way based upon gender? No.

I have been asked what advice I would offer Smith if I had the opportunity to do so. I am not so presumptuous as to offer advice. (And by the way, it doesn’t appear that she needs my advice.) But I will share what worked for me: from the moment I began my career with the Raiders until the moment I left, I comported myself without regard to gender.

It has never made any sense whatsoever to me that one would hope to be considered without regard to gender by others while giving thought to his or her own gender. In other words, how is it smart or fair for me to hope and expect that you will consider me without regard to gender if I'm thinking about or considering my own gender? That is not intellectually honest or fair. If I don’t want gender to be an issue, then I believe it best to conduct myself without regard to gender.

Might Smith encounter some gender-based resistance? Of course. What do I believe she should do if she does? She should do her job.

It was always my view that any time, effort or energy I spent thinking about, concerning myself with, focusing on or addressing anyone’s resistance to me was time, effort and energy wasted. Let those who were bothered by my gender waste their time, effort and energy on that.

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I have been asked whether I believe that I was “tested” because I am a woman. Maybe. But what is the best response when one is tested? Pass the test. We are all tested at times. Whether Smith is tested because she is a woman or for any other reason, she has an opportunity to pass (with flying colors) and advance as a coach. The expression “advancing as a coach” brings to mind another question: am I bothered by the fact that that Smith was made a control coach rather than an assistant coach? No, I am not. This is a natural progression in coaching. David Shaw (Stanford’s sensational head coach) was a quality control coach before he earned a promotion to assistant coach. 

I congratulate Kathryn Smith and wish her the very best for continued success. Let’s hope that we will soon reach a moment in time when evaluating and considering one another without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, religion or other distinguishing factors is no longer significant, but is instead the norm. We should have reached that moment from the start of time itself.

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.

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