A Feminist from the Sidelines: The Advocacy of NFL Owner Mark Davis

Published: Oct 9, 2022  |  

Academic Director of Graduate Programs in New York

Advocacy in social justice is a marathon of effort which can result in limited changes in the short term. The true crusade of activism is attained by the prolonged grit of instilling hope for future transformation in the long run. NFL owner Mark Davis’ unique style of activism for women’s sports is usually overshadowed by his public persona as the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders. The history of “Raider Nation” is a storied case of brashness and aggressiveness from the days when the franchise was located formerly in both Los Angeles and Oakland California. 

Davis embodies the historical essence of the Raiders off the football field and has used his platform to take a stance on many social justice issues. He has spoken publicly about serious topics such as domestic violence in the NFL, social justice and players protests, and the Washington Commander’s workplace conduct investigation. In particular, Davis’ activism and advocacy became national news when he approved the “I can breathe” tweet from the Raider’s Twitter page after the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. While Davis’ unapologetic activism has been uncommon in sports social circles, his most impactful allyship has been for the empowerment of women.

Mark Davis’ father, the late Al Davis (NFL Hall of Fame, Class of 1992) was a proponent of empowering women in the male-dominated world of the NFL. His hiring of Amy Trask in 1987 to the legal department of the Raiders was a monumental step for gender equity as she was the first woman in a high-profile position in the NFL. Al Davis continued his belief and support in Trask by promoting her to the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Raiders in 1997—breaking the mold for female leaders in the NFL. After the death of Al Davis in 2011, Mark Davis and his mother Carol inherited control of the Raiders with him taking on the operational control of the franchise.

Mark Davis’ tenure with the Raiders started on the retail side of the football business as he managed the image of the team in 1986. His understanding of how to position the team’s publicity and fan engagement played a major role in his decision to eventually relocate the team to Las Vegas, a move approved by the NFL in 2017. During his time in “Sin City,” Davis has been an active member of the local community and a stalwart supporter of sports in the city, particularly the Las Vegas Aces women’s professional basketball franchise.

Before Mark Davis purchased the Las Vegas Aces of the Women’s National Basketball Association in 2021 he was an active season ticket holder of the franchise. Additionally, he proactively invested heavily in building a relationship with WNBA MVP Aja Wilson to gain her support in his bid to purchase the team. Davis’ actions in seeking out Aja Wilson to gain her support and trust was an important show of respect. Also, after gaining ownership control of the team, his investment in breaking ground on a 50,000-square foot training facility for the Las Vegas Aces in Henderson, Nevada next to the Raiders practice facility showed his belief in supporting women’s sports.

Further, Davis’ investment in hiring Becky Hammon from the San Antonio Spurs as the head coach of the Aces and paying her a $1 million contract illustrated his serious approach to gender equality when he made her the highest-paid coach in the WNBA. In my opinion, it is not about the actual money, but what the money represents. This monumental contract shows Davis’ belief in Hammon’s ability and shined a light on his belief in the success of women’s professional basketball as a commercial entity worthy of investment.

While Davis’ interest and support of the Las Vegas Aces have been refreshing and in alignment with his “against the grain” and nontraditional leadership style, the biggest telltale sign of his activism came to light on September 18th, 2022. On this day, Mark Davis was in Uncasville, Connecticut for game number four of the WNBA Finals instead of in Las Vegas for the Raider’s home opener against the Phoenix Cardinals. 

Let’s be honest, this was a shocking turn of events. In the US, where the NFL is the top league in professional sports, this decision was a monumental switch in perception and declaration of a change in the status quo. Loyalty aside, this decision sends a clear message that women’s sports matter and is a big deal. Excuses could have been made to justify if Davis had skipped the WNBA finals game to attend the Raider’s home opener. Davis’ choice proves his activism, respect for the Las Vegas Aces, and their achievement in winning the franchise’s first championship.

Lastly, Mark Davis has spoken publicly about player pay and accommodations in the WNBA and has continued to “fight the good fight” for gender equality. His call to action in both the NFL and WNBA shows a fact pattern of care and support for all sports professionals regardless of gender. Mark Davis wants to win and is willing to make the investments needed to ensure success. Under Davis’ Leadership, the Raiders and the Aces are exemplary organizations thriving in Las Vegas. The reason for their respective successes is based on the genuine leadership and support of Mark Davis. As an NFL owner, Davis could take the easy way out and not ruffle any feathers. Instead, he has set forth on an ambitious campaign of advocacy and activism for the greater good. Whether you consider it unconventional or provocative, the bottom line is that his respect for gender equality is more than just lip service.

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