NEW YORK – That a woman can command attention not only in the male-dominated legal field but in one of the most potent arenas of maledom – professional football – speaks volumes for the energy, intelligence, and dedication of Anastasia Danias.
She is the Senior Vice President and Chief Litigation Officer at the National Football League (NFL), where she manages antitrust and other complex commercial litigation for the League and its teams. Among other things, she told TNH her priority is to make football as safe as it can be, particularly as it is poised to become an international sport.
“I was always interested in sports although I did not play much,” she told The National Herald the week after Thanksgiving, but she was well-trained at Fordham University School of Law for the intellectual contact sport of litigation.
She was looking for opportunities in the sports and entertainment field when she went to law school, although after graduating she become interested in law enforcement and prosecution – “But that didn’t happen.”
Does humor come in handy at an intense place like the NFL? “I think it’s always important to find balance and humor and an air of lightness in a tough situation,” she said. It is valuable for people to able to give themselves a little distance from the matters pressing on them, she explained. “People think better,” when they do that.
Asked if she learned that from anyone in particular, Danias said, “Certainly. My mom,” who is from Cyprus and for whom she has boundless admiration.
“She raised me as a single parent, then went back to college and medical school later in life. She was always working to put food on the table but she had the ability to step away and step back and enjoy life, to be present and be in the moment. She was a wonderful example.”
And now she can convey wisdom to the next generation of overachievers. She has two children, 5 year-old Alexander and 7 year-old Eleni, who has taken up ballet. “She just appeared in her first performance of the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center,” Danias said.
Danias may not have played organized football, but she was a gymnast in high school, and she surely flashed some of the ballet genes she passed on to her daughter.
Genes also figured in her football future, however: her cousins, diehard Jets fans, made her a fanatic, too.
“My cousins are like brothers to me.” They grew up very close as their grandmother cared for all of them in the East Elmhurst-Jackson Heights part of Queens while their parents were working.
In addition to being a fan she was drawn to the NFL for professional reasons. She began her career as a litigator but with a focus on intellectual property.
A large percentage of NFL revenue comes from trademarked products and the league’s relationship with the media has elements of alliance and competition that is fertile ground for intellectual property disputes.
“There is a nice interplay between sports, media, and entertainment and intellectual property. It was a nice fit for me.”
Danias gained valuable experience before she arrived at the NFL, but she also told TNH “I work with incredibly talented people.” As soon as she got there she was given “wonderful opportunities to learn from them and grow in my role and take on new challenges,” she said.
Danias appreciates the mentoring she received from Jeffrey Pash, the League’s General Counsel. Pash oversees a broader range of issues and this Fall the NFL has had its hands full with contests that could play out in court rather than on the field.
Danias is not involved with the case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, but she wanted to comment about the other current matter of concern in the football world, how to handle the danger of head injuries.
She spoke first as a mother. “I have a young son, and as a mom I would be happy to have him play football…it’s a wonderful sport. It teaches discipline and teamwork,” she said.
“I think that with parent engagement and the right tools, education and information,” she said, adding “coaches, trainers and parents can ensure that it is a game that is safe for their children.”
She said it is a priority of her office to help insure the game is as safe as it could possibly be, and they are focused on providing current and retired players with the best resources.
FUTBOL VS. FOOTBALL ABROAD
In most parts of the world, “football” (or “futbol”) is what we call soccer here in the United States. But in the 21st century, American football has gone international.
“We are also dedicated to insuring that fans have the best product on the field, and that they can engage meaningfully at home, in the stadium and elsewhere,” she told TNH.
Part of the effort entails exporting the game. The NFL is proud of its international games – regular season games that are played in London.
“There were three this year and I was blessed to be able to bring my daughter, who is now a fan.” Remarkably, they are also developing a fan base in China, where she visited earlier in the year.
“It’s not an unchallenging thing to do,” Danias said, “but It’s an interesting and challenging multifaceted game that requires an incredible amount of strategy and we think it will take off.”