I attended my first league meeting not long after joining the organization on a full-time basis. This meeting was what the league refers to as a “two-per-club meeting” and as the name suggests, clubs were allowed to be represented by no more than two attendees. In most cases, the controlling owner typically represented his club and brought with him someone he designated to also represent the club.
I was told that my attendance at that meeting marked the first time a woman unrelated to ownership had ever represented a club at, or even attended, a league meeting. I don’t know if that was the case. I also don’t care. When I was told that I was the first female executive to attend a league meeting, I accepted that it was true but I gave it no thought. Al Davis asked me to attend the meeting—and to represent the Raiders—and that was what mattered to me.
As I walked in, I saw a large group in the back of the room, enjoying coffee and conversing, so I walked to that area and joined the group. Almost immediately, the owner of another team asked me to get him coffee.
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.
It took a moment for his request to sink in. When it did, I looked around the room and realized that I was the only woman there who was not part of the hotel catering staff. This man must have assumed I was part of that staff. I smiled, asked him how he’d like his coffee, and got it for him. I could have refused to do so. I could have admonished him for asking the question. Instead, I quickly decided that I would have some fun at his expense. I was delighted with the prospect that when the meeting was called to order in a matter of moments, he would realize that I did not leave the room with the hotel staff but, rather, took a seat with the other club executives and owners. I thought that would be a very funny, effective way to make a point. It certainly amused me.
This owner was in his sixties or seventies, I think. He took his coffee with a bit of cream. He thanked me, but he did not tip me.
When the meeting was called to order, I followed Al to our seats. As we walked to our seats, the room became very quiet and I was able to hear some of the comments. Some people were using hushed tones; others were speaking conversationally.
Is she staying in the room? Looks like she’s with Al. Is she coming to the meeting? I think she’s coming to the meeting. Figures it would be Al. She’s not leaving. Who is she? Why is she here?
I was later told by quite a few people in and around the league that many people begrudged Al for bringing a woman into that room. I suspect that many of the men who resented Al for bringing a woman into that room were the same men who resented him for being the first to hire a Latino head coach and later the first African-American head coach of the modern era.
As for the owner who asked me to fetch him coffee, we became good friends, and he emerged as one of my staunchest supporters. He had no issue with my gender. He was simply surprised. The rules of the game had changed during his tenure as an owner—indeed, during his lifetime. And yes, he was mortified that he had asked me to fetch him coffee. And yes, handling this in the manner I did was effective. We laughed for decades about this and I periodically asked him if he wanted coffee, just to annoy him—and I reminded him that he should have tipped me.
Throughout the era in which Al’s disputes with the league roared, we took positions and made statements at league meetings with which I strongly disagreed. While I shared my disagreement with Al in the privacy of our offices, once at the meetings we presented our positions as those of the organization, as a united front. During this period, we also abstained when matters were voted upon by club owners. The practice of abstaining also predated my time with the organization. Initially, the organization abstained for legal reasons. Thereafter, the organization also abstained at times because Al believed the matter proposed was, to use the word he did, ludicrous. Al liked that word and he used it often, in a variety of contexts.
I joked for years that were we (Raiders employees) to play word bingo with Al’s favorite expressions, the person with “aw fuck” and “ludicrous” would be Al Bingo champion.
When I began attending meetings with Al, he abstained on the club’s behalf when matters were put to a vote. Later, I did so on behalf of the organization. This certainly didn’t endear me to anyone in the room. That our abstentions were a source of consternation was made clear to me. Every time we headed to a break after a vote from which I had abstained, at least one president or chief executive representing another team would criticize or mock me about our abstention.
Ultimately, I ended the tradition of abstaining and voted yes or no on all matters put to a vote. League officials and club owners were then annoyed in instances I voted no, as they always wanted unanimous affirmation of proposals. I would ask—in an ever-so-sweet, teasing tone of voice—whether they missed the day and age in which the Raiders would abstain and whether they would prefer that we would revert to that, rather than voting no. I stopped the practice of abstaining many years before I resigned, but our reputation for abstaining stayed with us.
There was one instance at a league meeting in which a club owner stood up to respond to something I said and began his remarks with “Listen, girlie.” He actually said, “Listen, girlie.” The only other time I had heard someone use the word “girlie” was when I was a preteen and my grandma shouted, “Hey girlie!” from the car to a teenager on the street to get her attention. I was so mortified that I slid down to the floor of the car to hide.
Al wasn’t at this meeting but I believe that had he been, he would have had a terrific response. I don’t know, though, whether this owner would have called me girlie had Al been in attendance.
When this owner called me girlie, most everyone in the room looked at me to see how I would respond, while some averted their eyes. My immediate and natural reaction was to laugh loudly. A grown man, in a business meeting, in the then-20th century, referred to a female executive as girlie. And so I laughed, loudly.
A number of people I respect have suggested that I should have denounced him for his absurd comment. I think erupting in loud, spontaneous laughter and treating him dismissively in front of league officials and other club owners was an effective response. I know that I much prefer being yelled at to being dismissed or ignored.
At one two-per-club league meeting two club executives—Steve Gutman of the New York Jets and Carmen Policy of the San Francisco 49ers—engaged in what became a heated argument on the floor of the meeting room. They were standing fairly close to and were shouting at one another. During the argument one man pointed at the other and said, “You, sir, are alarmingly disingenuous.”
Jack Donlan, the executive representing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the meeting, was seated immediately beside me. Upon hearing that remark, he swiveled in his chair to face me and said, “I hear you’re supposed to be pretty smart, so tell me, is calling someone alarmingly disingenuous the same thing as calling him a fucking liar?” Only, he had a thick Boston accent, so “fucking liar” sounded like “fuckin’ lyah.”
Well, I began explaining—quite precisely—that yes, calling someone alarmingly disingenuous is the same thing as calling someone a fucking liar, because if one wanted to simply call someone a liar—not a fucking liar—one would say he was being disingenuous, not alarmingly disingenuous.
At that point, Al—who was seated behind me as we faced the front of the room—poked me in the back and said, “He didn’t ask for a fuckin’ grammar lesson.” Oh.
At another two-per-club meeting I attended without Al, a club representative made an assertion—a representation—about the Raiders that was patently untrue.
As he was speaking, I did what attendees did when they wished to be heard and walked to the standing microphone nearest me, to wait my turn to speak. After this representative concluded his remarks, I began speaking. Just as I started to speak, then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue interrupted me and stated bluntly and dismissively, and in a manner suggesting that it was not open for dispute, that we needed to move on. He expected me to sit down, as did everyone else in the room. It never occurred to me to sit down, so I didn’t move. I stayed at the microphone and said, “No, I have something to say.” The room was silent. I remained standing where I was for what seemed like many moments as the silence continued. Finally, after a long pause, the commissioner said curtly, “Make it quick.”
It didn’t strike me at the time that I had done anything odd or out of the ordinary. My refusal to acquiesce to the commissioner’s direction and to sit down was not a political statement, it was not a form of protest. I had something to say and although I was told that I should sit down, I wanted to say it. I considered it my responsibility to represent the organization and I intended to do that to the best of my ability. I believed that to do so, I had to respond to the misrepresentations that were made. So, no, it didn’t strike me as odd—it struck me as appropriate. Apparently, it struck everyone else in the room as inappropriate and it struck many as offensive.
As we went to a break a bit later, one club owner walked by me as he was exiting the room, and without slowing his pace, he leaned in, ever so slightly, and whispered: “You popped my buttons.” He subsequently called Al and told him the same thing. I’d never before heard that expression and I didn’t know whether he intended it as a compliment or an insult.
It didn’t occur to me when the commissioner interrupted and tried to silence me that he did so because I was a woman. I am confident that he would have acted in precisely the same manner had I been male. It also didn’t occur to me that those who were offended by my refusal to yield to the commissioner were offended because I was a woman. They were offended because I didn’t defer to the authority of the commissioner, as others did. I believe that they would also have been offended by my action had I been a man.
Many people I respect have criticized me for not thinking the commissioner’s effort to silence me was gender-based and for not responding accordingly. Well, I didn’t believe it was gender-based, but let’s say for a moment that it was, and he acted as he did because I was a woman. Then wasn’t my reaction—refusing to follow his directive or to yield to pressure—the most effective response? What would have been better? If I made a speech? I was told to sit down; I refused to do so. I wanted to speak; I spoke. I believe that I did the best thing I could: I did my job.
Excerpted with permission from You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League by Amy Trask with Mike Freeman, copyright 2016, Triumph Books.