Over the course of the week, just about everyone imaginable has weighed in on the topic of domestic violence in the National Football League, including league executives, media analysts, legal authorities and experts on domestic abuse.
One voice it would have been nice to hear: that of a prominent woman executive in the offices of the NFL, or at an individual team.
And good luck finding one of those.
From 1997 through May of 2013, there was exactly one high-ranking female management figure in the NFL who didn’t have a familial tie to ownership, and that was Amy Trask, the Raiders’ senior executive. (In an organization renowned for vague job titles, Trask was equivalent to team president or CEO.)
I reached her this week to get her thoughts on the subject. Trask was traveling – she’s always traveling, mostly between her home in Los Angeles and her CBS job in New York – and she agreed to email her replies to my questions from the airport.
During the five years I covered the Raiders full time, there were at least two occasions on which a player made sexist, possibly intimidating comments to a female reporter or photographer. Trask did not normally get involved in everyday media complaints, but in both of these cases she quickly stepped in to address the problem. It was clear that she had no tolerance for men behaving badly toward women.
At the same time, as you will see, Trask tends to be quite guarded in her public comments, even though she is no longer with an NFL team. Here is the entirety of our interview:
Me: What did you think of the NFL’s original two-game suspension of Ray Rice at the time? Did you watch the more complete video? If so, did it change the way you thought about Rice’s punishment?
Amy Trask: “I did not – and I do not – believe a two game suspension was or is appropriate. The video revealing what occurred inside the elevator did not change my view, it reinforced it.”
Did you ever have any meaningful conversations with high-ranking league or team executives on the topic of domestic violence? What feeling did you come away with?
“I did have conversations of that nature and I believe that the individuals with whom I spoke understand that this is an important issue – they neither dismissed nor minimized concerns and we engaged in a healthy dialogue about how to address this problem.”
Do you think the NFL’s response to domestic violence would be any different if there were more female team/league executives?
“I am not sure that this would be the case. I know as many men who care deeply about this issue and who want to address it and to solve it, as I do women. I find it troubling to suggest that men cannot be as concerned about or as committed to finding solutions as women, just because they are men. I hope that we will all act responsibly and appropriately, no matter our gender.”
Does the NFL have a Ray Rice problem? Or does it have a deeper problem regarding violence toward women?
“Domestic violence is an issue which transcends the League. Domestic violence is a societal issue. But it is not mutually inconsistent to suggest that this problem may exist both within the League and society as a whole.”
Have current events (specifically, the ones outlined above) caused you to lose any respect for the NFL or caused your love of pro football to waver?
“I am extremely bothered by and disappointed in the League’s response to this incident and its actions in the aftermath of that response. I hope, however, that the League will take this opportunity, when our collective attention is focused on this important issue, to act as a catalyst for social change, by raising awareness about domestic violence and educating people about available resources.”
Alas, there was one question Trask declined to address – mostly, she said, because it would require a complex answer, and she didn’t have enough time to express herself before her plane departed.
This was the question: Ideally, how would an NFL team handle a case of domestic violence by one of its players or coaches (separate from any league discipline)? How do you think Al Davis would have handled the Ray Rice case?
Someday, it would be nice to get Trask’s candid thoughts on that one.