Her Game Life writer, Emily Cohen, sat down with Hannah Gordon, Director Legal Affairs for the San Francisco 49ers. She found out the inside scoop on careers for women in the NFL and which 49er has the best dancing skills.
Q: Hannah, I don’t think that even those who are pretty knowledgeable about football know what a Director of Legal Affairs for an NFL team does. Can you explain what your job entails?
A: You’re right – not many people know what I do. I don’t know if I necessarily knew before I got here what it would be like and what all the different responsibilities would be.
Basically I serve the everyday legal needs of everybody in the building. And for us, it’s not really negotiating player contracts because we have our Director of Football Administration and our COO who’s head of football administration—they, along with our GM negotiate the player contracts because those contracts are largely covered by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) so they’re really the salary cap experts on that.
The kinds of contracts I work on are sponsorship contracts, parking agreements, all vendor contracts, our employment contracts for coaches and other employees – non players, in addition to any contract, it’s any issue that pops up.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: What I really like is that there is so much variety and I get to work with everybody in the building. I really feel like you’re part of the team because I’m working with each different department on the team.
Q: You just started with the 49’ers last summer. Tell me a little bit about how you got here.
A: Well, I feel like my path started long before law school because I really fell in love with sports when I was in college. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in or what I wanted to do with my life. I was homesick at UCLA and I started writing for the paper there. I became the beat writer for football and I absolutely loved it.
I ended up interning at the Oakland Raiders in their PR department and then at Fox Sports West and then, after I graduated, I moved to DC and wrote for the NFLPA’s website, which made it very interesting years later to be on the flip-side of the management relationship.
From there, I worked in media relations at Cal – covering football, track and swimming – and that’s when I decided I wanted to go to law school.
Just before I started at Stanford Law School, I interned at an agency, Octagon. Their football office is in the Bay Area. After my first year of law school, I went back to the Raiders. I said, ‘I’d like to come back and intern in legal’ and they let me.
Q: And then you worked at a couple of law firms, right?
A: Yes, but it was a very tough time for law firms, and I was very fortunate to find my dream job at the time. I went to the NFL Management Council and I was an attorney on their staff reviewing player contracts. I felt so lucky because it was a once-in-a-career experience to be at the NFL at a time of enormous labor unrest.
In some ways I feel strange about it because you never want for other people to have to go through the experience of either locking out their employees or being locked out, but it is a fascinating legal experience. As a lawyer, all these legal issues come up, so we were working on CBA negotiations and dealing with the anti-trust suit that was going on. That was really, really interesting.
Toward the end of the lockout in June of last year, I was offered the job by the 49’ers. It was something I really couldn’t pass up, to be the Director of Legal Affairs at an NFL
Q: What’s your typical day like?
A: Well, today was pretty typical. I got up at 5:30 and drove over to a friend from UCLA who’s a personal trainer now and went and worked out with him from 6 to 7. I drove home, showered, intermittently checking emails – though not while driving. I came into the office at 8:30-ish and had a pile of emails despite checking my phone regularly.
I called back one of our outside lawyers about a question I had about our stadium lease at Candlestick, and now I have some employment contracts I need to write – we’re dealing with some closings on a transaction, so I’m working on getting signatures on those items. I’ll probably meet at some point with our salespeople because we’re working on some sponsorship deals and trying to get everybody on the same page as far as the product integration. And I talk with my boss, who is in Ohio, by phone several times a day.
Q: What do you do in your off time?
A: I wish I had off time! I have friends in San Francisco and Oakland and all over the Bay Area and I go visit them and go out for dinner. I used to dance a lot but unfortunately all my teachers have moved away.
Q: What kind of dance did you do?
A: I used to do jazz mostly and ballet and modern and hip-hop.
Q: So, given your dance background, who is the best dancer on the 49’ers?
A: I loved when Carlos Rogers did the Dougie in his touchdown dance. So, with that limited knowledge, I would pick him as the best dancer. I also love when our kickoff team starts dancing to the Tony Montana song. Lastly, I have to give props to Anthony Dixon who is always getting people hyped on the sideline.
Q: What advice would you have for other women who might be interested in a career in the NFL?
A: First, I think persistence is really essential. When Andrea Kramer came to moderate a Women in Sports Business forum that we moderated, the homework she gave everyone was to read Sheryl Sandburg’s commencement address at Barnard, which was about having ambition. I recommend that reading to any young woman aspiring to do anything in sports.
And second it’s just being a really hard worker. If you love the game, you’ll find where you feel like you could contribute, whether your passion is for marketing or sales or law.