Ascending to New Heights
With a Boyd Law degree creating career paths she never could have envisioned, Sandra Douglass Morgan becomes president of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.
By Matt Jacob
It’s a sweltering early July day inside climate-controlled Allegiant Stadium, and Sandra Douglass Morgan has just officially made history—yet again. Nevada’s first Black city attorney who went on to become the first Black woman to chair the state’s esteemed Gaming Control Board has just been introduced as the new president of the Las Vegas Raiders.
In so doing, Morgan has become the first Black woman—and just the third female and third Black person—to hold such a position in NFL history.
As the news conference announcing her hiring concludes, Morgan exchanges pleasantries and poses for photos with family and friends. Some of those friends have been part of Morgan’s inner circle for decades. As such, they’ve had a front-row seat to her meteoric ascent, from high school class president to double major at the University of Nevada, Reno, to timid first-year student at the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV to boss of one of just 32 NFL franchises (in her hometown, no less).
These friends? They’re beyond thrilled for Morgan. And now that her latest professional accomplishment is official, they’re ready to celebrate.
“I was so grateful they were all there, especially since many took off work to come to the announcement,” Morgan says almost two months later while sitting in a conference room on the first floor of the Raiders’ pristine headquarters in west Henderson. “So after the press conference, they came over, congratulated me, and said, ‘OK, do you want to go grab something to eat and celebrate?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, I have to go to work!’
“It wasn’t until later that I thought, ‘I really should’ve spent some more time with them.’ But I knew there was so much stuff to be done. The employees here had been without a president for months, so it was important that I start getting to know them.”
It was a leadership gesture straight out of the CEO 101 handbook. It also was a gesture her former Eldorado High classmates saw coming a quarter century earlier, when Morgan was tagged with this senior superlative in the school’s 1996 yearbook:
“On the Way Up”
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
— Marian Wright Edelman, children’s and civil rights activist, and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund
Morgan references this quote toward the end of an hourlong get-to-know-you conversation, and she does so rather matter-of-factly when asked about her trailblazing career and what (if any) responsibility she feels to pull other women and minorities through the latest glass ceiling that she has shattered.
With Morgan, though, Edelman’s words come with a side of irony. Because this—being president of an NFL franchise in Las Vegas—wasn’t something she ever envisioned.
“We’re always going to encourage our children and the generations behind us to strive for anything,” she says. “But it wasn’t my specific dream to be the president of an NFL team. Because I never saw it.”
What she did see growing up in blue collar East Las Vegas were two hard-working parents— her father, Gilbert, a U.S. Air Force master sergeant stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, and her mother, Kil Cha, a keno runner of Korean descent who worked at multiple legendary Las Vegas casinos, including the long-ago shuttered Landmark and Imperial Palace.
Morgan also saw someone else, every weeknight, through her family room television.
“Connie Chung definitely was a role model for us,” Morgan says of the veteran television newswoman, who was among the first women and female minorities to anchor a national network news broadcast. “Not only was she bright and captivating, but it was inspiring to know that everybody looked to her—a minority woman—to deliver their daily news information.”
So as a teenager, Morgan set her sights on a career in journalism. After graduating near the top of her class at Eldorado High—where she was class president, captain of the cheerleading team, and a member of the National Honors Society—she earned a Presidential Scholarship. Morgan used that award to head north to UNR, where she enrolled as a communications major.
However, during her sophomore year, a growing scandal on the other side of the country led Morgan to sign up for a class that would alter her original career plan and, really, her life.
The scandal: President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. The class: constitutional law.
Morgan found the course so fascinating that she quickly developed an interest in law school. Just one problem: That interest didn’t exactly jibe with the family budget. “The amount of money it was going to cost—just the tuition—was so daunting, I didn’t even have a conversation with my parents about it,” she says. “So while it was something I wanted to do, I didn’t know how to go about making it happen.”
Despite that uncertainty, as she wrapped up her undergraduate degree at UNR—where she majored in political science and minored in communications, finishing in just 3½ years—Morgan began applying to law schools. Except for one school in Missouri (where her grandmother lived), all of her law school applications were mailed west to California.
Enter Frank Durand.
One of the founding deans of the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV—which would become Nevada’s first fully accredited law school—Durand ran into Morgan during a visit to UNR’s campus. He was there to convince students interested in attending law school to consider Boyd Law, which had opened in 1998 … in a renovated elementary school across from the university’s campus.
Durand’s sales pitch hinged on a promise he wasn’t entirely sure he could keep: The law school had applied for provisional accreditation with the American Bar Association, and all signs indicated that the application would be approved. That, in turn, would start the ball rolling toward full accreditation, which Durand told Morgan (and other prospective students) should be in place by her target graduation date of May 2003.
But nothing was a given. And without accreditation, students who received their juris doctor from Boyd Law would only be permitted to practice law within Nevada’s borders.
After meeting Durand, Morgan became intrigued by the idea of attending law school in her hometown. She knew she would save money living at home and get a break on tuition as an instate student. “My only concern about UNLV at the time,” she says, “was accreditation.”
That concern was alleviated when Boyd Law received its provisional accreditation before Morgan had to make her final decision. Then the school came through with some financial assistance, and that sealed the deal.
“Kudos to Dean Durand. I’m so thankful to him for explaining the process to me and keeping me informed,” Morgan says. “I was willing to take that leap because I knew that by the time I graduated, I could practice in any state.”
In fact, it wasn’t until February 2003—just two months before Morgan was to walk across the stage in a cap and gown and receive her J.D. as part of the law school’s third graduating class—that the school got the official word: The ABA granted full accreditation.
Sitting at a glass conference table inside Raiders headquarters, Morgan exudes the kind of confidence you would expect from an NFL team president. Polished, professional, engaging—even to someone who is meeting her for the first time, there’s little doubt she’s as ready for this challenge as all the others she has encountered (and conquered) during her career.
It’s a far cry from the Sandra Douglass who arrived at the Boyd School of Law for her first day as a law student.
“Every chapter, you have a bit of self-doubt: Do I belong here? Is this the right place for me? Did I make the right decision?” she says. “As you get older, you don’t have time to dwell on things like that, so you just move on. But I remember that first day at orientation ...”
One memory in particular: The moment when students were asked to stand up and deliver a brief soliloquy about their background.
“It was a lot of ‘My father is a lawyer. My uncle is a lawyer. I worked for him in the mailroom of his law office’—things like that. Because I never really knew any lawyers, I had no frame of reference, which added to the self-doubt a little bit.”
By the end of the first semester, though, Morgan had found her footing as a law student. She joined the Organization for Women Law Students, as well as the Minority Law Students Association. (Of the latter, she says, “There really wasn’t enough of one demographic for us to each have our own [group], so we all kind of cobbled together, which was wonderful.”)
Like all Boyd School of Law students who have come before and after her, Morgan volunteered with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, helping to counsel those in the community who needed legal assistance but couldn’t afford a practicing lawyer. While such pro bono work is required for graduation, Morgan didn’t need her arm twisted. Rather, she openly embraced the school’s commitment to community service.
“Going straight from undergrad into law school, with no real life or work experience, it pushes you to get out of your comfort zone,” she says. “Having to take a class to be able to explain to the community, ‘This is what the small claims process looks like; this is what the landlord/tenant process looks like; these are steps you need to take to protect your rights or advocate for yourself’ was a huge responsibility and something I needed.”
Another element of law school Morgan embraced: the regular repartee with fellow students, several of whom were much older.
“It was interesting to be in my early 20s and in the full-time program with students who were neurosurgeons, dentists—people who had established careers—and having conversations about people’s rights, suspect classifications, discrimination, abortion rights, fundamental rights to privacy, and everyone obviously having different opinions,” she says. “I remember someone making a comment about the constitution and whether it’s a living, breathing document, then 30 minutes later sitting in another class with the same people talking about civil procedure or professional responsibility.
“Those law school experiences taught me that you’re going to have people who have differences of opinions but you can still find commonality and be respectful of each other.”
In-house counsel and litigation attorney for law firms big and small. City attorney for North Las Vegas. Director of external affairs for AT&T. Nevada Athletic Commission member. Nevada Gaming Commission commissioner (appointed by Governor Brian Sandoval). Nevada Gaming Control Board chair (appointed by Governor Steve Sisolak). Member of the board of directors for such corporations as Caesars Entertainment, Fidelity National Financial and Allegiant Travel Company. And, now, president of the Las Vegas Raiders.
When it comes to impressive résumés, well, good luck topping Morgan’s.
Surely, this was all part of a grand plan she mapped out two decades ago, right? Nope. In fact, when she graduated from the Boyd School of Law in May 2003, her grand plan was simply this: Pass the bar, get a job.
“My parents were there [for graduation], and I could sense their thoughts were, ‘Yes, we know she graduated from law school, but what does that mean?’ As parents, they’re always going to worry. And I remember them asking, ‘OK, now what are you going to do?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know—I have to figure this out!’”
Clearly, she did. Which is why Raiders owner Mark Davis pursued her to run the business operations of his storied NFL franchise. It was a pursuit that began in summer 2021, when Davis invited Morgan and her husband, Don Morgan—who played four years in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals—to attend a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium.
“[Davis] said he’d heard about me from a few people and wanted to meet, but it wasn’t any kind of job interview,” Morgan says. “We talked for a bit, he said, ‘Enjoy the game,’ and we kept in contact after that.
“[I knew] he wanted me to be involved [with the Raiders] in some way with something—nothing clearly defined—but at the time my plate was full. So I told him it just wasn’t good timing for me.”
After Morgan was named vice chair of the 2024 Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee in December, she attended the Super Bowl in Los Angeles in February 2022. While there, she ran into Davis. “He said, ‘You keep saying no!’” Morgan says. “And I told him, I don’t recall ever saying ‘No’; I just said the timing wasn’t right.”
That changed about six months later, when the two began having serious conversations about the future of the Raiders’ franchise and the role Morgan could play in helping Davis map out and fulfill his vision, from improving the organizational culture to being a trusted and valued community partner.
Davis’ message in a nutshell: “We’ve done a lot here in the city, we’re going to do more, and I see the Raiders in you.”
He offered Morgan the job of president, and after talking it over with her family, she accepted.
“I think I had to convince myself, but I also knew in my gut when Mark first mentioned the opportunity that this was something I had to do,” Morgan says. “I just had to make sure that, one, it was the best thing for me and my family, and two, the best for the Raiders’ organization. After everything they’ve gone through during their journey and transition [from Oakland to Las Vegas], I needed to be sure I could be the stabilizing force in the front office that Mark was seeking.”
If Morgan had any initial doubts about taking the job, they were erased when Davis explained to her who would be the first to learn about the historic hire.
“As we were talking about my start date, he told me multiple times, ‘Before we announce anything [publicly], you need to meet with the employees first. They need to see you, they need to hear from you, and they need to hear from me as to why I selected you to be our next president,’” she says. “That was very telling.”
As one would expect, the Raiders’ new leader arrived for her first day on the job with a list of goals. Short term: Bring stability to the front office and enhance communication among departments. Long term: Continue to grow the value of the franchise, offer the best fan experience in the NFL at Allegiant Stadium, and be recognized as one of the best places to work.
“Like any other organization, we want to make sure everyone is on the same page, focusing on a common goal, and communicating effectively,” she says. “We have wonderful qualities here with respect to being loyal, having a diverse workforce, and having the support of an owner who understands the importance of inclusion—someone who respects people for their abilities and talents but also makes sure they’re treated well when they come to work.”
There’s another long-term goal, of course, this one a bit more personal. And it ties back to that Marian Wright Edelman quote that Morgan holds dear: You can’t be what you can’t see.
Indeed, as recently as a few years ago, young Black girls living in Nevada couldn’t see themselves ever being a city attorney or head of the regulatory body that oversees the state’s most important industry. And as recently as a few months ago, no young Black girls living anywhere could see themselves being president of an NFL franchise.
Now, thanks to Morgan, those girls can envision being any of those things—and, hopefully, much more.
“I do think I underestimated how much attention [my hire] would receive, because I was so focused on the Raiders and making sure that the employees knew how I planned on implementing Mark’s vision for the future here in Las Vegas,” Morgan says. “But I’m slowly realizing based on conversations with people throughout the league that this appointment is historic. And because of that, I feel like I have a responsibility to share my story and journey.
“Understanding that my position here with the Raiders might hopefully inspire others, it’s very humbling. It’s also one of the proudest moments of my life.”