DENVER – The NFL season kicks off here on Thursday and while there will be a lot of women coming through the gates, very few will be coming through the executive offices of National Football League teams, which are overwhelmingly dominated by men. The lack of women could very well explain the PR disaster that is the league’s purse ban policy – a policy that isn’t required by the Department of Homeland Security as a security measure and is a headache that could have been avoided by consulting the purse-carrying sex.
Here’s why the Denver Broncos couldn’t send a woman executive to demonstrate the NFL’s nonsensical purse policy: They don’t have one. Instead they sent the general manager of Sports Authority Field at Mile High (the Broncos’ home field), and while he may be a very nice man, he probably has not carried a purse any time in the last decade.
Denver’s NFL operation is not alone in its lack of women. According to the women and sports blog GuysGirl.com, the Broncos are one of five NFL teams – the other four being the Raiders, Bears, Patriots and Redskins – with zero women as executives and/or directors. In addition, the blog notes, nine other teams only employ a single woman each in a leadership role – this from a league which estimates its fan base to be 45 percent female.
In addition to a purse ban at the stadium, there is apparently an ovaries ban in NFL front offices. Given the female-unfriendliness of the purse ban, and trying to get to the bottom of the reasoning for it, I tweeted two very simple questions to the Denver Broncos and Sports Authority Field: Is the purse ban policy mandated by guidelines from the federal government? And did they ask any women about it? The answer I got was this: “The league has mandated its guidelines regarding bag restrictions. Consistent throughout NFL.”
I take that as a “the locker room came up with this on our own” response and a total dodge about whether women were consulted about the policy. It reminds me of the famous T-shirt that appeared after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster: “We don’t care. We don’t have to care. We’re Exxon.”
The NFL needs to care about its female fans, because they’re the future of the NFL. As the Guys Girl blog asks, “Can the NFL grow the female fan base without women in the front office?” The female NFL fan base has risen to 45 percent but it’s going to start shrinking unless the NFL stops making boneheaded moves like the purse ban, a ban that is turning off female fans.
The NFL is a business, after all, and the reactions I’ve seen to the purse ban have been almost universally negative. A Denver woman whose car was broken into at Mile High and whose left-behind purse was stolen blamed the NFL bag policy and told local media, “I think you should revamp your policies or else you’re going to lose a lot of fans.” Perhaps the NFL should have thought about that, and consulted a few of their (nonexecutive) female employees and fans, before implementing the policy.
In 2003, after years of discrimination, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, requiring minority candidates be interviewed for head coaching positions. I think it’s time for a Rooney Rule for women executives in the NFL.
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