Photo Credit: Charlotte Jones Anderson
There may not be a mom in America who knows more about football than Charlotte Jones Anderson, the daughter of one of the most well-known football owners in America, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. After growing up watching, learning and loving the game, she followed in her dad's footsteps, joining the Cowboys' organization as Executive Vice President of Brand Management, the top position held by a woman in the NFL, overseeing all things related to the iconic brand, including its cheerleaders.
But now this 46-year-old mom of three (her two sons, ages 18 and 12, play the sport) has taken on a new role, as Chairman of the NFL Foundation, with much of her focus centered on keeping kids safe on the football field, and arming moms with the information they need.
Best Advice to Moms? Educate Yourself!
“As a parent, I think it’s our job to always worry about our children,” Anderson told me during an in-depth phone interview. “And I think every morning when I get up, I worry about my kids. When they head out the door, when they get in the car … I worry if they are going to get to their next place safely. And I think that applies for every single thing that they do, and of course, what sports and what activities that they choose to engage in.”
Anderson says her best advice to any mom is to learn as much as possible about football or any other sport their kids are playing. “I think for all of us, the more we can educate ourselves about what our kids are interested in, the better off we are going to be because I think a lot of times fear comes from lack of knowledge,” said Anderson, who has 23 years of experience in the NFL. “And I really think that especially in a world where women might feel like they don’t know as much about a particular sport … then I feel like we’re a little bit more hesitant to feel comfortable in situations because we’re just not as familiar.”
Questions to Ask?
So what if you have a son or daughter who is playing football or wants to play the game, what should be on your fact-finding agenda? “Ask the question, is your coach certified?” she said. “Is he putting safety first in practice? Does he know how to recognize an injury of any sort and do you know how to recognize an injury because a lot of times we don’t.”
We may all know the signs of an ear infection, for instance, but do we really know how to determine if a head injury is severe or just a bump that needs an ice pack?
“For all moms, I think that’s very important that we understand (the) signs and symptoms of different injuries so that we know who to call and we know where to go,” she said. "I’ve heard a lot of conversation in the medical field that this is great that we are able to raise the level of awareness with head-related injuries because this happens ... on the playground ... in car accidents. It’s everywhere," she added. "If we can create the awareness through our visibility to educate everyone so that they can recognize different signs then they have a place to turn and … to seek assistance and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Mouth Guards for Basketball?
With sports in her genes, Anderson knows more than most about the dangers of sports and also the benefits of equipment, which led to some interesting moments on the basketball court when her son wore a mouth guard. “All the other parents kind of looked at me and said ‘Why is he wearing a mouth guard? It’s basketball.’ Well, shortly thereafter, the whole team had mouthpieces,” she said with a laugh. "Everything is physical so you want to protect as much as you can but you don’t want to go overboard either … so the more you can learn, the better off you are going to be and the more comfortable you are going to be with your children in any setting.”
Case in point: Anderson herself when it came to her daughter playing lacrosse, a sport she didn't know that much about. “Lacrosse is a fabulous sport for girls but they don’t wear helmets and the claim is that the rule is that you can’t hit someone with your stick," she said. "Well, we’re protecting against an accident so I have more fret about my daughter’s sports quite frankly than I do about my sons because I know I have protected them, and I feel like I know a lot there. I don’t know a whole lot about lacrosse so that probably creates some anxiety for me so I think how we can best help our children is to help ourselves first so that we can then help them.”
Future of the Game?
Anderson said the “number one focus” in the NFL right now is on player safety, an issue that has come under increasing scrutiny after a growing number of cases of brain-related illnesses, some of them fatal, impacting former players. “All of this is in constant discussion,” she said, referring to aspects of the game such as the rules and the equipment used. “It is definitely the most intense topic that we deal with and the one that has the most focus and interest because everyone wants this game to be safe."
Work/Life Balance in the NFL? Not Baking the Cookies!
How does she balance being the most powerful woman in the NFL, with raising three kids, one a college freshman, the two other still at home? What’s her secret? Well don’t ever go to her house, she said to laughter. “That whole myth that there’s a superwoman out there, well I can tell you I’ve got holes in my cape and I’m falling down.” (Oh, how we can relate!)
“When you look in the mirror, you kind of have to have a high tolerance for ambiguity … you have to accept the fact that if you’re a perfectionist, things aren’t always perfect and you have to give yourself a little slack knowing that you are the best you can be whether you are sitting behind a desk or you are home coloring on the floor with your kid.”
“And I tell a lot of the women that work for me, don’t be so hard on yourself because I’ve got a lot of friends (who) don’t work (and) their dedicated time to their children is not nearly as focused as yours.”
If Anderson has any secret, like many working moms, she derives a lot of satisfaction from her job, knows her kids are proud of her and tries to be intensely focused on what she is doing when she’s doing it. “But I will tell you I am not the mom that makes the cookies. I don’t,” she said with a laugh. “And I’m okay with that. There have been times that I wasn’t okay with that and I think that realizing that we can do as much of it as we can, we can’t do everything but we can do what we do well ... and cutting yourself a little slack knowing you got to be the best you you can be.”
The 'Lean In' Debate
Of course, I had to ask about Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" book/movement, which Anderson said she believes applies to both women -- and men. "I think you need to be a self-advocate for yourself all the time, male or female."
Her dad, she says, never saw gender when it came to her and her abilities. "He thought I could be the next president of the United States ... I had a lot of great support when I was growing up and because of that, just because I wear high heels doesn’t mean you need to look at me any differently because I’m every bit as capable as the person sitting next to me."
She never really felt she had to prove herself as a woman, she added. Instead, she had to prove she was qualified beyond being the owner's daughter. "I didn’t want people to think I got the job just because of my father. I know that’s how I got here, but I stayed because of what I contributed," she added. "And quite frankly, I think women have a very unique place in the boardroom. They have the ability to hear a lot of different perspectives and then insert themselves in a way that is very dfferent from a male voice and I think that we should be able to capitalize on that to improve our standing and improve our stature and our respect."
As I did my research about Anderson before our interview, I learned something I couldn’t quite believe – how her mom sat in on some of her classes at Stanford and her dad set up an office in Sacramento during her college years. Charlotte, is this an extreme case of helicopter parenting, I asked? She laughed and called it the “greatest thing ever” for a gal from Little Rock, Arkansas who didn’t know anyone in California. “So for me that was actually a huge amount of comfort,” she said. “They just wanted to be involved … and I love that and I hope my kids will let me do the same.”
In fact, she says her daughter, who just finished her freshman year at the University of Arkansas, doesn’t mind her mom “dropping in” on her. “I said just make sure there’s a seat in the back and I’ll come in a baseball cap,” she said and laughed. “Maybe they’ll think I’m a student.”
Growing Up with Jerry Jones
It’s a question she no doubt gets all the time – what’s it like growing up with Jerry Jones as your dad? Well, to Charlotte, he’s not one of the most famous owners in football – he’s first and foremost dad. “My father is probably my biggest cheerleader,” she said, calling him the "most passionate person" she has ever met. “He has always pushed to make sure that we searched for the greatest opportunities that we could, to put ourselves in unique and different situations, to be supportive of taking risks, to reach out there.”
Like many of us, when it comes to her dad -- and her mom, she admits she's also driven by something else. “There’s always that drive … you just want to make your parents proud … and that leads you to do great things.”
Indeed, it does!