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SF 49ers General Counsel discusses mental toughness at annual Cap and Gown brunch

Hannah Gordon shares advice on sports media, law and empowerment

INYOUNG CHOI / The Stanford Daily

On Sunday, the annual Cap and Gown Spring Brunch saw alumni and current students engage in conversation on female leadership. This year’s event featured Hannah Gordon J.D. ’08, who is in her eighth season as the Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel of the San Francisco 49ers.

Current Cap and Gown President Crystal Zheng ’19 shared her excitement for the speaker prior to the event: “[Gordon], being a woman leader especially in a male-dominated space like sports, [is] valuable for the community.”

As a woman in sports, Gordon is no stranger to being the only woman in the room. She noted that she was the only female football-beat reporter for the Daily Bruins, her alma mater’s campus newspaper. Since then, she has navigated paths in media and eventually law, leading up to her current position as a female executive for a NFL team.

Reflecting on her experiences, Gordon began her speech by redefining what it means to be “tough.”

“In football, mental toughness is necessary,” Gordon said. “When I say mental toughness, I’m not talking about beating anyone else…[mental toughness] is about staying in our own race.”

Guiding the attending audience of women through interactive reflective exercises, Gordon shared insight she gained from her own career as well as what she observed from the athletes she represents.

“Mental toughness is taking things one step at a time,” she said. “In football, we talk about shaking off the last leg.”

Gordon added that top athletes, in addition to the extensive training they receive to build physical toughness, are encouraged to see sports psychologists to best understand themselves mentally and emotionally.

“Therapy and counseling is the definition of exercise for mental toughness,” Gordon said.

While Gordon advocated for steady persistence balanced with self-care, she reminded the audience to reevaluate what it means to not quit. Adding that “selecting another opportunity that calls for an entire better purpose” is not akin to quitting or a sign of laziness and failure, she encouraged young women to be flexible to changing paths in their career. Gordon reflected on her change in her game plan when she transitioned careers in media to law. She added that she fully utilizes all her experiences leading up to who she is today as she continues with her current role.

Gordon ended her speech with words of advice for women who, like herself, continue to tread paths with few other women beside them: “Walk like you belong.”

Contact Inyoung Choi at ichoi ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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