“The hard decisions will always be there waiting for you but honing your softer leadership skills like checking in with staff…and allowing people into your personal space goes a lot farther.” – Pegula on her leadership style through the pandemic
“We didn’t need to be first, we didn’t need to be the fastest…we needed to be effective.” – Pegula on the Bills’ social justice plan
“I plan to stand during the anthem. Standing doesn’t mean that I don’t support Black lives or that I’m not invested in the causes players hope to draw attention.” – Pegula on her intention to stand during the National Anthem
STAMFORD, Conn. – July 6, 2020 – In the latest edition of Peter King’s Football Morning in America, available now exclusively on NBCSports.com, Kim Pegula, owner/president of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, serves as a guest writer and discusses 10 lessons learned while guiding the organizations through the COVID-19 pandemic and forming a plan to combat social injustice.
Across NBC Sports this week, ProFootballTalk.com continues to provide the latest offseason news and the Rotoworld Football Podcast prepares for the 2020 season.
The following are highlights from this week’s edition of Football Morning in America:
Kim Pegula: “Amid the coronavirus pandemic this spring, our staff went remote, free agency came and went, our draft was virtual and our coaches tried to figure out how to bring together a new group of guys that in many ways hasn’t yet been able to connect…We’re also part of a nationwide conversation on racial inequality and social injustice made acutely necessary by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota. People are angry, frustrated and both the city of Buffalo and the Bills are right there with them.”
Pegula on her role: “My role as owner and president means that I must push for change at the league level while also making sure our own house is in order…Here are 10 things I’ve learned thus far through an extraordinary spring, and how I plan to make sure our organizations are positioned to come out better on the other side.”
- Just being in the game isn’t enough
Pegula: “As an Asian-American female owner in the NFL, I’ve always been very aware that I am a minority. I’ve also always thought of myself as a champion of diversity of some sort.”
Pegula on her actions: “Since recent events, however, the word that resonated with me over the last month is “deliberate.” Was promoting diversity and fighting racism a deliberate priority for me as a leader of the organization? I’d have to say no, and I’d have to acknowledge that I failed there. Day-to-day demands – meetings, budgets, agendas – got in the way, and so it’s been a learning experience for me as a minority woman to realize I have so much further to go.”
- Change starts at home
Pegula: “We heard from a lot of our Black players and employees that one of the most important things to do in the short term was to start having the conversation and acknowledge racism exists.”
Pegula on the Bills’ town hall: “In May, we held a town hall open to every employee across our organization called ‘Listen, Learn, Love.’…I felt it was important that we spent the time for our own family, people we knew we could affect, and who were deserving of our time and effort on this topic.”
Pegula on the Bills’ actions regarding social justice: “We didn’t need to be first, we didn’t need to be the fastest. On this important topic we needed to be effective and that started with the people we cared about the most – our collective Buffalo family.”
Pegula on Bills rookie QB Jake Fromm’s racially insensitive text messages coming to light in June: “For me, this was an opportunity for us to practice what we preach – to listen, learn and love. This was a learning opportunity for him and us, and a chance for Jake to build better relationships going forward. I know he’s had multiple conversations with the team and individual players, and it will continue to be up to him to determine how he’s going to heal those wounds.”
- Change needs to be real and it’s not a competition
Pegula: “I’ve heard from many in our organization demanding action, and yes, there are small things we can do in the short-term to improve racial equality…This time, I wanted to focus on how we can make it deliberate, how we make it stick, how does it become the ‘norm.’ One of the biggest challenges for myself and my staff has been to create not just a plan of action, but action that is deliberate and sustainable.”
- The harder the decisions, the “softer” you need to be
Pegula: “The ‘soft’ leadership skills – making myself visible to our staff and providing clear, consistent communication, as well as acknowledging what I don’t know – are now at the forefront and just as important as the hard skills.”
Pegula on her leadership style: “Some people may assume Terry (Pegula) is better at the hard skills and I’m the soft-skill type, but it’s probably the opposite. During this time, being ‘soft’ is more important. The hard decisions will always be there waiting for you but honing your softer leadership skills like checking in with staff, being on Zoom meetings you weren’t on before and allowing people into your personal space goes a lot farther. That’s been an important learning point for me.”
- A pandemic doesn’t discriminate
Pegula: “Not only was football affected but so was every other business we were involved, including the Sabres of the National Hockey League…Even in the expanded playoff, we were one of the seven teams that didn’t make the cut. This allowed us to re-examine ourselves once again.”
Pegula on recent moves within the Sabres front office: “While I don’t want to get into the specifics of why we parted ways with GM Jason Botterill, the pandemic certainly added another layer of complexity to a results-oriented business…We needed to become leaner and more agile to meet the challenges we knew were coming.”
- Engage with the issues and be clear on where you stand
Pegula: “At the height of player demonstrations during the anthem in 2016 and 2017, there was a sense that people didn’t want to come down definitively on either side, that if we waited long enough, it would go away. Here in 2020, I feel it’s essential that we’re transparent and that we engage with the issues, and that’s why I thought it was important to share my stance early.
I plan to stand during the anthem. Standing doesn’t mean that I don’t support Black lives or that I’m not invested in the causes players hope to draw attention, from systemic racism to police brutality to mass incarceration. People in our organization have very different viewpoints stemming from their own personal experiences. I support and encourage their right to act on those views. In return, I’d only ask that they respect my choices as well. Listen, learn and love at its core.
I was born in South Korea and adopted by Canadian parents who moved to Rochester, New York. My parents became American citizens in order to adopt me and bring me to the U.S., and I later became a naturalized American citizen. In November of 2019, I had the opportunity to return to South Korea and see the orphanage where I grew up. While a new building had been built, it was in the same spot, and the children living there were having an early childhood very similar to my own. To me, becoming a U.S. citizen involved an oath to the flag and the country, something deeply personal. I pledged allegiance to the flag and standing for the anthem is a tribute to the oath I took. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had, and I wouldn’t have had them if I hadn’t become a U.S. citizen.
Unfortunately, many people in this country have not shared those experiences and being a citizen of our country has not always been easy. Awareness of those differences has made me more respectful of individuals’ choices on how they will approach the anthem this season and has also given me the conviction to be clear about my intentions and what it means and doesn’t mean when I stand for the anthem.”
- Employees are more than their job
Pegula: “When you work with employees in an office setting, that’s how you see them. They’re in a role and they’re doing their job. Now that so much is happening on Zoom calls, we’re still talking about work, but I’m looking into people’s kitchens and I’m in their offices…It’s absolutely softened me to see my staff in these different settings, there is more to them than the job.”
- Uncertainty is here to stay
Pegula: “We started meeting daily to prepare for the inevitable and the unpredictable and share best practices across different parts of the business…There’s still a lot of unanswered questions, and even when I get answers, those answers just seem to lead to more questions.”
- We can do things we never thought possible
Pegula: “Amidst all that uncertainty, the teams across our organizations have proven themselves capable of so much more than I ever would have expected…Much like a football team itself, our business staff follows a schedule and a routine, and it took an unprecedented moment to push ourselves to be flexible.”
Pegula on a call between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and sports leaders on draft night: “To be honest, selfishly I was a little upset that he would schedule a call on draft night…When I logged onto the Zoom call, there was commissioner Roger Goodell also on the call. Obviously my role, compared to the on-air role the commissioner has, is very small…That was a moment that put things in perspective for me in terms of the ways in which everyone in this league, no matter who you are, was making new challenges work in unprecedented ways.”
- Find joy where you can. For me, that’s with family
Pegula: “One of the few upsides of the pandemic has been the unprecedented amount of time our family has been able to spend together in one place…It’s a shame that a pandemic is what it took for all of us to come together like that, but it was a positive, and one for which I am hugely grateful.”
The following are additional highlights of NBC Sports’ NFL coverage:
- ProFootballTalk.com continues to provide the latest offseason news and updates.
- Rotoworld Football Podcast: Experts Josh Norris, John Daigle, Hayden Winks, and Patrick Daugherty continue to prepare for the 2020 season.
A new “Football Morning in America” posts every Monday morning exclusively on NBCSports.com through the NFL season. It was announced in May 2019 that King signed an exclusive agreement with NBC Sports Group that included writing a weekly Monday morning NFL column for NBCSports.com; making regular appearances on NBCSN’s and NBC Sports Radio’s PFT Live with Mike Florio; and continuing to contribute to Football Night in America, the most-watched studio show in sports.