by Linda Brandt Myers
In Alabama, football is kind a religion,” says Jacqueline (Jackie) Davidson ’05, who grew up in Tuscaloosa.
“It comes with the territory,” she says. “I remember watching the pageantry of the 1991 Super Bowl when I was almost ten, hearing Whitney Houston singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and having a feeling of euphoria that was almost like falling in love.”
But it wasn’t until she was older and watched the movie Jerry Maguire that she saw a potential role for herself in the game.
“That’s when I was introduced to athlete contracts and sports representation,” say Davidson. “That’s what appealed to me early on. Before that, I had no concept of the behind-the-scenes work involving how athletes got to play on the field.”
Named director of football research last July with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Davidson came to the Bucs after working for the New York Jets from 2007 to 2018, the last three of those years as chief negotiator of player contracts. She is the highest-ranking woman of color across the thirty-two front offices in the NFL. Her expertise is in salary cap management. And, although she has only been with the team for about a year, Davidson is credited with being a key reason the Bucs were able to win the Super Bowl this season.
A week before Tampa Bay’s decisive 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs gave them their second Lombardi trophy in franchise history, the Bucs general manager Jason Licht was quoted as calling Davidson “brilliant” in a news story in the New York Post, adding: “She has made an impact already in her first year.”
And former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, whom she’d worked for while at the Jets, called her a “rock star.” He credited her with being the linchpin in ending that team’s contract stalemate with former corner-back Darrelle Revis in 2010, among other things, as per that same January 28, 2021, New York Post story.
“It didn’t take long to sell me on the job with the Bucs,” Davidson says, “because it combines all the things that I like to do. I like negotiating player contracts, putting things together on the salary cap side. And I like data analysis,” adds Davidson, who, in addition to her Cornell Law School studies, majored in economics as an undergraduate at Davidson College in North Carolina.
“I can’t think of anyone better at this than Jackie,” says Mike Greenberg, B.S. ’07, Cornell, director of football administration with the Bucs, who first got to know Davidson back when he was a law student at Hofstra, and interned for her while she was working for the Jets.
“She has a plan, is able to project the market, find creative ways to structure deals, is also creative about salary and phenomenal about drafting contract language,” Greenberg asserts. “Recently we were working on a deal with a lot of obstacles. Jackie was staring at the board with all the figures, saying: ‘It’s here, I know it’s here’—and in two minutes she had the solution.”
“I can’t think of anyone better at this than Jackie.”Mike Greenberg
“Overall, my job can be whittled down to trying to help the organization make more efficient and more informed decisions,” says Davidson.
“Whatever components go into team building, whether that’s data modeling, data analysis of the contract statistics, trades.”
Her secondary duty—which has become more primary since free agency started—is to assist Greenberg with con-tract negotiations and managing the salary cap. “Essentially that’s what my background is in,” says Davidson.
Interestingly, Davidson doesn’t see herself as a tough negotiator, “although my mom might say otherwise” she hints. “I think I’m more of a problem solver. Sometimes problem solving means towing the line, and sometimes it means active listening, asking what’s important to the other side,” she explains.
When Davidson decided to apply to law school, she says, “It was not necessarily to practice traditional law, but to gain a skill set and a degree that I wanted to have.” She chose Cornell because she liked its small size and the way it handled the entire admissions process, plus “you can’t beat an Ivy League degree.”
Davidson’s career in sports management actually began with a Law School course she took on sports law with William “Buck” Briggs, B.S. ’76, Cornell, an attorney with the National Football League Management Council, who taught the course as an adjunct professor for close to thirty years.
“She made her interest in a possible career in sports management known to me early on and was one of several of my law students who did an externship at the NFL Management Council when I was an attorney there,” Briggs recalls.
“Looking back, I was a wide-eyed intern,” says Davidson. “I didn’t know what the day to day was like. A lot of what I did was baptism by fire.”
“She was astute enough to realize the importance that re-search and analytics play in contract negotiations at NFL clubs,” says Briggs, “and she was able to lay a solid ground-work in those areas to open the doors to club employment.”
Davidson says that the externship “was a very eye-opening experience, in terms of learning about an area I hoped to go into.”
Other courses that stood out for her include Civil Procedure with Kevin Clermont, the Robert D. Ziff Professor of Law, and Trial Advocacy, during which “my trial partner and I put on a case that was so much work but also very gratifying— and a lot of fun,” she says.
“I met Jackie when she was assigned to me as my mentee through BLSA [the Law School’s Black Law Students Association],” says Shameka Walker ’04. “We hit it off immediately and have been friends for nearly nineteen years now. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding, and we continue to communicate often.”
“I didn’t and still don’t have a sense of myself as being a trailblazer. I recognize the importance of visualizing people who look like me in certain spaces. I recognize that it matters. But I don’t see myself that way. I’m still the same Jackie Davidson who grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”Jackie Davidson
Of Davidson’s career successes with the NFL, Walker says: “I’m very proud of her, but not at all surprised. She is quiet and laid back but also hard-working, dedicated, and has tremendous determination. And as a friend she is understanding, generous, and has been there for me,” Walker asserts. “She is reserved, but she has a huge personality and a big heart.
As an African American woman holding a high-level position in the NFL, Davidson often finds herself in the spotlight in national sports media, fielding a lot of questions about what that’s like. Unsurprisingly, she handles it all with much grace and humility, say colleagues and friends.
In a recent interview, Davidson said one role model for her is Katie Blackburn, the first woman to be chief contract negotiator in the NFL and who is currently executive vice president of the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I got to meet her when I interned at the league office in 2005,” recalls Davidson. “I remember being kind of blown away that this was Katie Blackburn, and she did a lot of the things that I was hoping to do in the future.”
As to Davidson’s own path-breaking successes, she says: “I’m very fortunate to be in a position to inspire others. It is not something I take lightly, and if I am that to someone, then I’m very humbled and appreciative.
“I didn’t and still don’t have a sense of myself as being a trailblazer,” Davidson asserts. “I recognize the importance of visualizing people who look like me in certain spaces. I recognize that it matters. But I don’t see myself that way. I’m still the same Jackie Davidson who grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”