Hannah Gordon Brings Her Passion for People to the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers


Photo Courtesy of Hannah Gordon

Hannah Gordon is the Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel of the San Francisco 49ers. On Sunday, February 2, her team will go head-to-head against the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami, Florida, with the hope of taking home their sixth Super Bowl championship. Over almost nine years with the Niners, Hannah has taken on initiatives like diversity in hiring and fan groups for female Niners and the LGBTQ+ community.

From her childhood dreams of Barbie’s and fashion design, Hannah eventually switched gears to football and journalism. A few years later she landed in law school and tried the law firm world for a while but the NFL was calling. She was recruited by the 49ers and now she is one of the highest ranking female executives in the NFL.

Hannah is responsible for overseeing Legal, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications, Risk Management, Community Relations, the 49ers Foundation, Fan Engagement and the 49ers Museum. And that’s just her day job. She also is active in league-wide matters, has served on multiple intra-league working groups and hears appeals as a member of the panel that administers the NFL Player Tuition Assistance Plan and the NFL Severance Pay Plan. In her spare time, she mentors young women who are looking for career guidance. We don't know how she does it. We’re tired just writing this!

Here's an excerpt from our interview with Hannah Gordon.

Passionistas: What's the one thing you're most passionate about?

Hannah: People. I guess that's kind of a big answer, but if I had to pick one thing to be passionate about, it would be people. And that's why I do what I do because I love working with people and I like observing people.

Passionistas: So how does that translate into what you do?

Hannah: Well, the great thing about what I do is I get to work with every person at the 49ers pretty much every sort of group. And that ranges from our players to our janitorial staff, to our engineers in the stadium, to our sales groups to the groups that I lead – which would be community relations, the foundation, youth football, the museum, risk management, legal, public affairs and strategic communications. And so I think both the experience of leading a team as well as the experience of getting to work with a lot of different people who come from different sort of subcultures. Oftentimes if you come from a certain type of work, for example, I worked for a law firm early in my career and in a law firm you have mostly one type of person — lawyers. And it's much more interesting to be in the world where there's lots of different types of people.

Passionistas: The 49ers is the first team in the NFL to commit to interviewing at least one woman and one person of color for every business opening. And you've been a big part of that initiative. So why is that important to you personally?

Hannah: Well, I think it's important as a business that you have the best people. This is still a talent based, not only industry, but I would think pretty much any business you're running, talent is at a premium and you're not going to get the best talent if you don't overcome people's unconscious bias. And so I was actually just talking with our Executive Vice President of Operations and President of 49ers Enterprises, Paraag Marathe who recruited me to come here. And I was saying that I still to this day often explain the business case for diversity to people in the same terms that he explained it to me many years ago, which is that it's really an arbitrage opportunity. So essentially you have an economic system that is not working rationally, which means if you are rational and recognize that there's a diversity gap, then you're able to actually get better talent than other people have because you're finding the talent that has been overlooked. And Paraag is actually being honored next week just before Super Bowl by the Fritz Pollard Alliance as their salute to excellence award winner for the year. So very, very happy for him.

Passionistas: You also oversee fan groups like women of the Niners and 49ers Pride for the LGBTQ fans. So talk about those initiatives and why, again, why they're important to you.

Hannah: I'll start with 49ers Pride, which is our newest fan engagement program. That is a program that's as you noted for our LGBTQ+ fans, but also for our allies. So it's not just for one type of person. Cause I think one of the things that really resonates with our fans is that we recognize that they look to see their values reflected in us. And I think as the team of the San Francisco Bay area, we very much do reflect the progressive values of this region. And so for us it was really natural to see, okay, where is there a part of our fan demographic that maybe historically hasn't been focused on or served in, in the overall experience of sports in America in the same way. Not that they weren't necessarily, enjoying being 49ers, but how can we even elevate that experience and create more community.

And so we launched 49ers Pride at a town hall that we did with the San Jose State Institute for the study of sport society and social change. And we had an incredible discussion around a lot of issues of gender identity and LGBTQ+ activism in sports there. And then we launched this fan engagement platform and the response was really overwhelming. The videos we received from people in tears just saying how much it meant to them that they'd been 49ers fans for their whole lives, that they'd never felt excluded by the 49ers but they also now really felt included in a way that they'd never felt before.

And then you asked also about our women's official club. So WON: Women of the Niners is our official women's club. And that's something we've had for a long time. But we did rebrand a couple of years ago, to try to reach an even broader swath of fans. We want to be reaching all of our fans, which very much includes the women who make up almost 50% of our fan base, and given what a big number that is, it's also a very diverse fan base. So we have women fans who are 14 years old. We have women fans who are 94 years old. We have women fans of every ethnicity, every socioeconomic background, and every level of fan ability. So we have extremely avid fans who want to see us breaking down all the X's and O's for them. And then we have casual fans who are interested in some of the storylines, some of the personal stories behind our players and their families and where they've come from, but who may or may not feel like they've gotten enough of an education in the game to fully enjoy and appreciate the game.

And so we try to meet everyone where they're at and ensure that they both feel a part of the 49ers and that they're getting what they need to, to really, enjoy the game and be passionate about our team. So those are those two of our fan engagement clubs.

Passionistas: So what's the most rewarding part of what you do?

Hannah: I'll tell you two things that happened in the last week that I think sort of epitomized regardless of when we are in season. What's the most rewarding after the NFC championship? Seeing the faces of our players and coaches and staff who were so elated, that was truly rewarding. That's what you're working towards is that feeling of accomplishment and communal experience because it's also the, the feeling that our fans had in the stands. I think if you have not been to a football game in person, it's such a powerful communal experience that doesn't happen in a lot of other ways in American culture anymore. There aren't a lot of places where people come together in person and drop whatever is happening elsewise in their lives or around them and have this incredible real community experience where you're having this shared emotion with 68,000 other people. It’s very unique. And so that is one of the most rewarding parts.

And then the other most rewarding part is the work that I've been able to do over the last few years with everything that we do in the community. And about a week and a half ago, one of the events that we did was for Martin Luther King day. We went and did reading with kindergartners and first graders at an elementary school and the little girl who I was assigned to be her reading partner. Oh my god, that sweet little face. That is the most rewarding part. At first I was like, she's not going to want to read with me. I'm not a player, but it then you're reminded anytime you're with children that they're excited just because you're an adult, just because you have taken an interest in them and that you are there to help them. And so for me, the community work that we do, the joy that we're able to bring to other people, that is the other most rewarding part.

Listen to Hannah’s full episode here.

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