NFL’s Women’s Summit Misses The Mark

I started this site way back in 2009 in large part to compensate for the NFL’s inability to intellectually market to women. Women were high spending consumers – female apparel was the league’s fastest growing ancillary business – yet they were not treated as engaged fans.

In the years since we have experienced a lot of female firsts. The first female official (Sarah Thomas). The first full-time female coach (Kathryn Smith). The first woman to call a nationally televised NFL game (Beth Mowins). Women make up 50% of the NFL’s viewership and are smart, knowledgeable fans deserving of an elevated platform.

Sadly the NFL’s 3rd annual Women’s Summit missed an opportunity to celebrate women as equals, talk about the raw issues facing our gender and create an action plan for improvement.

An impressive audience packed in the Pantages Theater in downtown Minneapolis. The showing of prominent women from the league, team and broadcasting worlds was incredible. So many of the of the women in the room could have easily offered an opening address. Instead they were treated to three consecutive men (Roger Goodell, Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf, Vikings COO Kevin Warren) professing their commitment to diversity. Each had lovely stories about their background and drive – Wilf’s grandparents escaped a Nazi-occupied ghetto – but none of them looked like us.

If I were running the event, I would have unquestionably selected Mowins or Tafoya to offer opening words. Each is an inspiration and Mowins, in particular, is deep in the midst of breaking glass. I also would have burned the pink pillows donning the stage seating.

Mowins and Tafoya did star on a promising panel, moderated by Maria Menounos, the event’s emcee. The conversation had bouts of humor – Tafoya said her biggest challenge Sunday would be braving the security line – and they did delve into the intricacies of breaking barriers. But it also had a cringe worthy moment when Tafoya gushed about how beautiful Menounos is which devolved into a disappointing discussion about the importance of appearance on camera. Is this really the message we should be sending the young women in the audience?

An opening panel just for a special college-aged audience was more useful. Moderated by Andrea Kramer, ESPN executive Christine Driessen, NBC CMO Jennifer Storms and Procter and Gamble exec Janet Fletcher offered this group strong, empowering advice about asking for what you want. “Confidence matters, said Kramer. “If you’re asking questions in an interview, how are you going to lead a business?” Fletcher asked.

Not feeling particularly empowered and needing to head to another event I left soon after the Tafoya-Mowins panel. Among the programming I missed was an interview with actress Issa Rae, a conversation about supporting each other in the workplace with female executives from the Buccaneers and Vikings and a seemingly fascinating panel with Warrick Dunn, DeAngelo Williams and Peanut Tillman about the impact of player causes on women. Natalie Weiner of Bleacher Report, who was in attendance and shared similar overall sentiments, lauded this last discussion.


I attended the wonderful inaugural Women’s Summit in San Francisco. Goodell spent more time talking about female advancement than his background, and made news that day by announcing a Rooney Rule for women in executive positions in the league office. Condoleezza Rice perfectly delivered a powerful address about diversity that left the audience with chills. A spoken word genius delivered a mesmerizing performance about the being a female athlete.

This version had a stellar guest list and a blank canvas to evolve the conversation in a way that mirrors society. There were bright spots but not enough of those hear us roar moments that should define any gathering of marginalized people.

Undermining any dose of positivity was the shocking premier item in the event’s parting gift bag.

I came to get empowered. I left with the same tired message women in football receive from social media trolls every day: Get back in the kitchen.