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Katie Blackburn is first woman appointed to influential Competition Committee

The NFL has made history by appointing the Bengals executive as the first woman to its most visible ownership commitee.



4 former players also on committee, an all-time high

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The NFL has made history by appointing the first woman to its Competition Committee, the most visible and highly influential of all the ownership committees. Katie Blackburn, the executive vice-president of the Bengals, is now listed on the Football Operations website as a member of the Competition Committee, but no formal announcement has been made. The league told Football Zebras that the committee appointments took effect in August, and confirmed that listing to be the current committee roster.

The Competition Committee is responsible for extensively reviewing competitive aspects of the game and reviewing and recommending rules changes to the league’s owners. The committee solicits rules change proposals from teams, mostly through its coaches subcommittee, but it’s the core of 8 to 10 main committee members that decide which proposals carry the imprimatur of the Competition Committee. The committee also reviews proposals to revise the league policies and bylaws that cover off-the-field concerns such as injured reserve, roster and waiver rules, and the expansion of the playoffs. The committee also meets throughout the year to review competitive issues and officiating concerns.

Blackburn brings about another milestone in the league’s encouragement of the advancement of women in executive ranks. And now, the arm of the business that has the most direct effect on the product on the field is represented by one of those women.

Blackburn also returns the Bengals to the Competition Committee, a team that has had a seat on the committee for all but 7 years since it evolved from the Rules Committee in 1968 as part of the pending NFL-AFL merger. The Bengals have been represented by owner Paul Brown (Blackburn’s grandfather) from 1968 through his death in 1991, his son Mike from 1994 to 2000, and coach Marvin Lewis from 2006 to 2017. Blackburn is Mike Brown’s daughter and the first person to be a third-generation member of the Competition Committee.

In addition to Blackburn, Colts coach Frank Reich, Titans coach Mike Vrabel, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier have also joined the committee. The league has increased the Competition Committee from 9 to 10 members, and departing the committee this year are Packers president Mark Murphy, Broncos president of football operations John Elway, and Saints coach Sean Payton. (Elway stepped down from his general manager duties at the end of the 2020 season.)

There are now four former NFL players on the Competition Committee, the most it has ever had in its existence, with Reich, Vrabel, Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome, and Washington coach Ron Rivera. There has never been a current player on the committee (although the players union does send nonvoting representatives to participate in the committee meetings). The predecessor Rules Committee formed in 1932 with player-coach Benny Friedman of the short-lived Brooklyn Dodgers, and multihyphenate player-coach-owner George Halas represented the league informally on the collegiate rules committee; these are the only known active players in the rulesmaking process.

Vrabel is also the first Competition Committee member to be on an NFL roster in the 2000s and in the 2010s, having finished his playing career in Kansas City in 2010.

Rich McKay remains its chairman, a gavel that is rarely passed to others which he has had since 1998. Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm lead the committee from 1968 to 1989 (and the final two years of the Rules Committee). That means that 47 of its 55 years, this committee was run by either Schramm or McKay.

2022 Competition Committee

  • Rich McKay, president/CEO, Falcons (committee chairman)
  • Katie Blackburn, executive vice president, Bengals
  • Chris Grier, general manager, Dolphins
  • Stephen Jones, executive vice president, Cowboys
  • John Mara, owner, Giants
  • Ozzie Newsome, executive vice president, Ravens
  • Frank Reich, head coach, Colts
  • Ron Rivera, head coach, Washington Football Team
  • Mike Tomlin, head coach, Steelers
  • Mike Vrabel, head coach, Titans

This post was updated to include information from the league on when the appointments took effect.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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