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Vikings Deliver Strong Presence, Voices, at NFL Women's Summit

Posted Feb 6, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS – Who is in your huddle?

That’s a question that was asked and responded to in a variety of different ways from an array of speakers at the third annual NFL Women’s Summit.

The event, held last Friday at Pantages Theater in Minneapolis in the lead-up to Super Bowl LII, welcomed female football fans – most of them local to Minnesota – for a morning of inspiration and insight from women involved in the NFL one way or another.

The first panel of the day featured NFL Senior Vice President and CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, Chargers Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Jeanne Bonk and Vikings Director of Football Administration, Anne Doepner. The panel was moderated by NFL Executive Vice President & Chief HR Officer Robert Gulliver, who defined the three women as “women who have broken barriers” in their respective positions.

All three shared personal experiences of having family members – especially males – who supported and believed in them from a young age, and they also emphasized the importance of young women finding mentors in their career field.

They encouraged young ladies, especially those in high school or college, to not “make gender an issue” in setting up career goals and to work on lessening the perception that it’s too difficult to make it in the NFL as a woman.

“I think that’s why we have events like this and these amazing women up here, to show you that we need to kill that perception,” Doepner told the audience. “It’s hard, but any work is hard. You can do it. And the more women we have up on stages like this, we’re going to kill that perception.”

Following the discussion, Doepner told Vikings.com that she was “beyond thrilled and honored” to have been included as a panelist during the Summit.

“I couldn’t have envisioned an event like this even a handful of years ago, and I think back on how valuable this would have been for me as a young woman – starting out in this business and kind of trying to break through this male-dominated field – if I could have heard firsthand from some women who had done it,” Doepner said. “For me to be able to be on that other side and hopefully help out even a couple of people in that audience is really amazing for me.”

She emphasized both during the panel and after that it’s important for women to understand the value of working alongside strong and successful males in the industry, as well, and avoid falling into a “male versus female” mindset.

Doepner specifically pointed out Vikings Ownership, General Manager Rick Spielman, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren, Executive Vice President of Operations Rob Brzezinski and Assistant General Manager George Paton.

“The men in our organization are our biggest advocates,” Doepner said. “I have such amazing support built in. They want to help me grow, and that’s a focus of theirs, so I feel like they’re in my corner, and that’s really important to me. Because there’s only so much we can do as women by getting together and talking about, ‘OK, here’s what needs to change.’ They’re going to be our vehicle, a little bit. It’s important to have those male champions, and we do.”

Guests were able to hear from a number of male speakers, as well, who spoke of strong female role models they have had in their lives as well as female co-workers or mentors who have made an impact on the workplace.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell welcomed the attendees and spoke about career goals and dreams and the mindset needed to make them a reality, regardless of gender.

“It’s not enough not just to love something. It’s important for you to figure out how you’re going to make that industry, that organization, better,” Goodell said. “If you have a real, true passion, that’s great. Apply it, drive, find a way for you to make that that industry, that organization, that world, better through that passion. Because that’s where the magic happens.”

Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf also addressed the audience and shared from deeply personal experiences about his grandmother’s strength to escape a Nazi-controlled ghetto and survive the Holocaust as a Jewish citizen in Poland during World War II.

“She hid her husband under the floorboards of a barn for two years, never knowing if they would live another second or another minute,” Wilf said. “I tell you that story because if it had not been for her, I would not be standing here today … She was one of the heroes and role models in my life.

“The reason I bring that up to you is because I want each of you to think of the heroes and role models in your own life, like my Bubbe Miriam,” Wilf added. “It could be a teacher, a parent, a coach, a friend, someone that maybe gave you a spark to come here today … I can tell you that sports, and especially football, was a great bonding experience and a way to become part of the American culture in the NFL.”

Warren also represented the Vikings and spoke from the heart, telling his journey that began as an 11-year-old child who was hit by a car and severely injured but who refused to let a negative prognosis be true in his life.

Warren urged the guests to have a mindset that adversity is important in one’s life to succeed and not to be defined by labels or generalizations imposed by outside voices.

Following his address, Warren told Vikings.com that he believes strongly in diversity in the workplace and that it drives his motivation to continue supporting women in the NFL and especially within the Vikings organization.

“I just think diversity is so important. And that’s gender diversity; that’s sexual orientation; that’s race, religious – it is so important. So any time you as an organization, as a franchise, as a business, can give all people, regardless of the way they look or their background, an opportunity, the better you’re going to be,” Warren said. “And women are so talented. They’re smart, they’re diligent, they’re loyal, they’re passionate, they’re creative. So to have that thought process in the room [is invaluable].”

Warren pointed to his experience under former Rams Owner Georgia Frontiere and the perspective he gained from that experience.

“I just developed this kind of second layer in my mind to make sure that we cater to everyone, regardless of your background,” Warren said. “This is an exciting time for women, and I’m just honored to have a little part of this program.”

Another guest who received a warm welcome from the auditorium was U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is the first woman from Minnesota to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Klobuchar spoke from the heart about the experience of being a woman in politics. Of the 1,900 U.S. Senators over the history of the United States, only 51 have been women.

“The good news, though, is that right now we have an all-time record; of those 51 [women], 22 are there now,” Klobuchar said. “We have this incredible group of senators that work across the aisle, and I actually got involved in politics because I wanted to make a difference.”

The Vikings were represented by a number of strong voices at Wednesday’s event, including Vice President of Legal & Human Resources Karin Nelsen, Vice President of Partnerships Activation & Special Projects Tanya Dreesen, and Director of Vikings Women and Strategic Development Tami Hedrick.

Hedrick told Vikings.com that it was inspiring to be involved with the NFL Women’s Summit and to reflect back on how much progress has been made with women’s initiatives within the Vikings and beyond.

“Everything that we’re doing here today – bringing in that younger generation, having experts from the industry sharing, all being together in this ‘Vikings House’ today – it’s all very exciting,” Hedrick said. “And it’s kind of a snowball effect. You can see the momentum that’s happening with women’s initiatives – not only with the Vikings but across the league.”

Hedrick’s message to the women attending overlapped some with Doepner’s, encouraging young to not be afraid to take risks.

“They’re that age that I was – the youngest [cheerleading] coach in the NFL at 23 years of age – and I [accepted that position]. I just did it, afraid,” Hedrick said. “Even though I was afraid, I had one year experience, I was the youngest coach, I was a woman in the NFL, I said yes. And I can’t believe the impact it’s had on my life.”

Below is a full list of the panelists who presented at Wednesday’s summit from the respective speakers.

“Advancing Women Through Careers in Football” | Jeanne M. Bonk, Anne Doepner, Michelle McKenna-Doyle

“Advancing Women Through Careers in Sports” | Christine Driessen (EVP, CFO, ESPN), Janet Fletcher (P&G Director, Sports Marketing), Jennifer Storms (CMO, NBC Sports Group)

“Women Charting New Territory in Broadcasting” | Beth Mowins (Play-by-play announcer, ESPN, CBS), Michele Tafoya (Sideline reporter, NBC Sports)

“Who’s In Your Huddle?” | Nikki Donofrio (VP of Marketing & Community Relations, Buccaneers), Tanya Dreesen, Karin Nelsen, Jessica Worley (VP of Corporate Partnerships, Buccaneers)

Featured Guest Interview | Issa Rae (Actress, writer, director, producer; Golden Globe nominee; Forbes “30 Under 30”)

“NFL Player Cause-Related Work and Its Impact on Women” | Warrick Dunn, Charles “Peanut” Tillman, DeAngelo Williams

“Inspiration From the Minnesota Vikings Women Advisory Board | Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx guard, Olympic gold medalist), Barbara Butts Williams (Executive Dean, External Relations & Partnerships and Dean Emeritus, Capella University), Sheila Oliver (VP/General Manager, FOX 9), Tami Hedrick