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January 10, 2013

The Best Defense in Football


Photo Credit: Isabel Asha Penzlien

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MC: What's the NFL's position on these lawsuits?
AD: The 6,085 plaintiffs [among them, 3,973 former players] are basically claiming that the NFL knew or should have known of what they claim are long-term cognitive risks of repeated head injuries, and that the NFL either hid those risks or didn't do enough to prevent them. We vigorously dispute those claims. We're still in the very early stages. Given how many plaintiffs there are and that we'll need to delve into the medical history of each one, the litigation has the potential to go on for many, many years.

MC: You're the mother of two young children. Knowing what you know, would you let your kids play football?
AD: Football is a wonderful sport that encourages leadership, discipline, teamwork, and physical fitness. And I think, as with any physical sport, parents have to be aware of the risks for injury and work with coaches to make sure they are mitigating them.

MC: How much face time do you get with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?
AD: I've had many dealings with Commissioner Goodell. Two years after I started, I was asked to be the corporate secretary for the league, which meant that I had to attend owners' meetings. I did everything from taking minutes to working with the owners on various resolutions. Not only did it give me great exposure to the personalities in the league, but it also gave me a better understanding of league priorities and how they were viewed at the most senior levels. The lesson there is, so long as you are developing a rapport with senior leaders, even a task that seems administrative in nature can lead to more substantive opportunities to advance.

MC: Is it safe to say that you work in a mostly male, macho kind of environment? What's that like?
AD: As a general matter, men hold most of the leadership and ownership positions in the sports industry, and the NFL is no different. But in my experience, I think that the differences that drive management styles are less gender-driven and more about individual personalities. I feel like there's always a little bit of mentoring involved in managing. I try to take the parts of leaders that I admire and incorporate them into my own style. I think one of the mistakes that many women make, and one that I made early on in my career, is a tendency to be apologetic. I can't tell you how many women come into my office and say, "I'm sorry to bother you with this." It's far more productive and confidence-inspiring to be direct and straightforward.

MC: You'll give a major press conference in New Orleans just before the Super Bowl to talk about the NFL's measures in thwarting counterfeit merchandise and tickets. How are you preparing for that?
AD: The Super Bowl's very well attended, so there's certainly an intimidation factor, and I want to be sure that I am not only prepared in my written remarks but also ready for questions from the media, which are sometimes tough. I anticipate what kinds of questions I'll get and the themes I want to develop. Being well-prepared is critical.

MC: Do you like doing press?
AD: It's a mixed bag. I love the Q-and-A with the media — it has that same quality of oral arguments. But, obviously, as a litigator, you just want to make sure that you're making your arguments in court, not to the media.

MC: Who will you be rooting for come game time?
AD: As an NFL employee, I root for all 32 teams equally — some more equally than others.

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