Not all battles in football are won on the field. These 15 women are proof. This group of pioneers has built the National Football League into the meritocracy that it is today, each in her own way. Martha Firestone Ford is a revered owner. Amy Trask is a Super Bowl executive. Sarah Thomas is a full-time referee. Beth Mowins is set to break ground as a national play-by-play announcer. Charean Williams is a national writer and Hall of Fame selector. From the front office to the field, these women have made significant in-roads towards defining the direction of America's most popular sport and opening doors for those who dream to follow in their footsteps. Read about their contributions to the game of football below.
Pegula has quickly become one of the biggest names in Buffalo sports. As CEO of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, she and her husband Terry in 2014 became only the second owners in Bills history. The Pegulas also own the NHL's Sabres and two other local franchises. Pegula is heavily involved in off-the-field work for the Bills and is a member of the Super Bowl Committee and the National Football League Foundation board, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of those involved in the game of football.
The first female chief executive officer of an NFL team, Trask is well known inside and out of NFL circles. She became the CEO of the Oakland Raiders in 1997 and held the position until 2013. Trask started as an intern with the Raiders while in college but was later hired by the team's legal department in 1987. She is currently a football analyst for CBS Sports, acts as CEO of Big3, a new 3-on-3 basketball league, and recently released her book, "You Negotiate Like A Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League."
Haslam is an owner of the Cleveland Browns, along with her husband, Jimmy. She also is involved with multiple organizations in the Greater Cleveland area and elsewhere. Haslam is part of the ownership group of Pilot Flying J, the Haslams' family truck stop business. She is also CEO of RIVR Media and serves on the board of directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, University Hospital System and United Way.
Martha Firestone Ford
One of the league's eldest owners, Ford, 91, has controlled the Detroit Lions under her leadership since her husband, William Clay Ford, passed away in 2014. Before she was running a franchise, Ford was the granddaughter of one of America's great automotive industrial icons, Harvey Firestone. Running the Lions remains a family affair; Ford is joined on the team's board of directors by her three daughters and one son. She also serves as an officer on the board for Detroit Lions Charities and on the board of the Henry Ford Health System.
Amy Adams Strunk
Strunk is the controlling owner of the Tennessee Titans and one of the daughters of Oilers and Titans founder Bud Adams, who died in 2013. She also serves as the co-chairman of the franchise's board of directors. Strunk has been instrumental in rebuilding the Titans from the top down. In 2016, she hired Jon Robinson as the team's next general manger, along with coach Mike Mularkey and president/CEO Steve Underwood.
Mowins will make history this season when she becomes the first woman to call a nationally televised NFL game, a divisional matchup between the Chargers and Broncos on Sept. 11. Since being hired by ESPN in 1994, Mowins has called the gamut of sports. She has done play-by-play for women's college sports for years and college football since 2005. Two seasons ago, Mowins became the play-by-play voice for Raiders preseason games.
In 2016, Smith became the first female to be named to a full-time coaching position in NFL history when the Buffalo Bills hired her as a quality control special teams coach. Smith began her career as a Jets game day intern before being promoted to college scouting intern and then player personnel assistant. She spent 2015 as the Bills administrative assistant to coach Rex Ryan before her promotion. While she will not be retained by the Bills in 2017, Smith has quite the resume for a future in football.
Blackburn acts as executive vice president of the Cincinnati Bengals. A part of the Bengals' front office since 1991 and daughter of team owner Mike Brown, Blackburn was the first woman to be a chief contract negotiator in the NFL. Along with her team duties, Blackburn has a significant role in league affairs. She is the chairwoman of the eight-person workplace diversity committee and of the Super Bowl advisory committee and is a member of the CBA player benefit plans committee.
Thomas is the first female official in NFL history and remains so to this day. The groundbreaking ref began her career officiating grade school games before moving vertically from high school to college in Conference USA and then on to NFL contests. Thomas was a part of the league's development program in 2013 and 2014 during which she officiated preseason games. She was hired full-time in 2015.
Davidson is one of the New York Jets' top negotiators on player contracts. As the team's director of football administration, her responsibilities include managing the salary cap and ensuring the team complies with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and league personnel rules. Davidson first worked with the NFL in 2004 as a legal intern with the NFL management council. She was previously the Jets manager of football administration.
Charlotte Jones Anderson
Anderson is the Cowboys executive vice president and chief brand officer. Her responsibilities include overseeing all strategies and applications surrounding the team's brand as it is presented to Cowboys fans worldwide. The daughter of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Anderson has worked in the team's executive office since 1989 when her father bough the team. Outside of The Star, Anderson is heavily involved in philanthropy and was recently named chairman of the NFL Foundation, which spearheads efforts in player care, youth football and medical research.
Bonk is currently the Los Angeles Chargers executive president and COO, but has held multiple roles within the organization. She was hired as the team's CFO in 1991 and throughout the years has held the roles of chief financial and administrative officer, vice president-CFO and executive vice president-CFO. Having overseen the team's day-to-day financial operations for the last 25 years, she was a key member of the negotiating team for the Chargers' San Diego stadium efforts.
Gordon acts as the San Francisco 49ers general counsel. She joined the organization in 2011 as director of legal affairs and has also held the role of vice president of legal and government affairs. As counsel, she oversees legal, external affairs, risk management, community relations, youth football and the 49ers Museum.
Aponte is the former Dolphins executive vice president of football administrations. For six seasons, she was the team's chief negotiator and was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day management of the football business and administration operations. Over her 25 years in the NFL, she was involved in the front offices of the Dolphins, Jets, Browns and the league itself.
A veteran sportswriter, Williams was the first female selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has held that distinction for 11 years. She also was the first female president of the Pro Football Writers of America, a role she held for two seasons. Recently hired by Pro Football Talk, Williams wrote for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for 17 seasons and the Orlando Sentinel for six seasons before that.
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- Sept. 7, 2018