The NFL featured Katie Blackburn in their most recent installment of the Next Woman Up series.
The Next Woman Up series is a collection of interviews with women around the league. So far, the series has highlighted women like Charlotte Jones, executive Vice President and brand officer of the Dallas Cowboys, and Kim Pegula, owner and president of the Buffalo Bills.
Blackburn serves as the executive Vice President for the Cincinnati Bengals, and she’s been taking on a larger role since the owner and her father, Mike Brown, is approaching retirement.
In the interview, Brooke Cersosimo asked Blackburn how she first got involved with football.
“I was lucky, because once I started working with the team, I would get to sit in with my dad,” said Blackburn. “Back then, some of the player negotiations were done over the phone, so I could only hear what he was saying, not the entire conversation, but I had some involvement in that at an early stage.”
Once Blackburn became an important member of the front office staff, she became heavily involved with contract negotiations.
“I had a legal background at that point,” she said. “So I was involved in contracts, player negotiation items and some secretarial work on the corporate side. I definitely grew more into the player negotiation part of it, but the great part for me is I’ve always been able to be involved in a lot of different aspects.”
The thing she’s most proud of is getting her two daughters involved in the organization.
“I’m just proud to be part of the Bengals. It’s been a family business, and now my girls, Elizabeth and Caroline, are working here now and doing great things.”
The most well known of the two is Elizabeth, and she has quickly become a fan favorite. She serves as the director of strategy and engagement, and has been front and center in things like the Ring of Honor and redesigning the Bengals’ uniforms.
Caroline is the Bengals’ senior manager of digital strategy. With Katie in ownership, Elizabeth in the business operations department, and Caroline in the communications department, the Blackburn women each have their own corners of the franchise.
“They have so much more confidence,” said Katie, “and they handle themselves really well. It’s fun to watch them step in, and they’ve worked around here in high school, too. But I love that they want to take action and implement their ideas. I’m impressed with what they’ve done in such little time, and I’m really proud of them.”
Around the league, Blackburn sees more and more women getting taking on larger roles. From coaching to ownership, women are starting to find places around the NFL.
“Oh, there are a lot more women involved now. It’s awesome. There’s no reason women shouldn’t have always been given the opportunities. Even the areas where some say it would be more difficult — coaching and that sort of thing — you are seeing more women in those roles, and it’s absolutely amazing. ... Football is a great sport, and I’m glad to see more women getting involved. On the ownership end, it’s been interesting to see the number of female owners running the different teams. I find that really amazing, and they’re all doing great jobs.”
Her advice to any women or girls wanting to become involved in the NFL was to keep searching out opportunities. Most women are not born into prominent NFL families like Blackburn, but she says the opportunities will come.
“If you are interested, you should absolutely pursue it. NFL teams are not large organizations, and it might be tough to get that first opportunity. But there are a lot of great opportunities; you just have to keep at it.”