ATLANTA – Turner Sports vice president Tara August’s eyes sparkled like diamonds when she recalled how her career has ascended to the point where the White House is now calling her. Rolanda Gaines, the director of marketing over at Fox Sports, was temporarily transported back to the Motherland as she excitingly retraced how one of her jobs in sports took her on a mind-blowing excursion to Johannesburg in South Africa. And Nzinga Shaw, the current chief diversity and inclusion officer for the Atlanta Hawks, is a living testament to how dream jobs can be had despite a former employer telling her she would always lack the qualifications.
ColorComm’s “Minority Women in Sports PR” panel discussion in the club section in Philips Arena became a fascinating foray into how these black women accomplished and experienced things beyond their original comprehension as they pursued their goals in life.
And what was one of the best parts of the 90-minute panel discussion of highly-successful women who thrive in the competitive, lucrative and highly-rewarding occupation of sports business? Shaw, charged with enhancing diversity for the Hawks, is not even a rabid sports fan. The former PR person for world-renowned Edelman and Essence mag calls herself an “industry agnostic” — a person whose emotional temperature doesn’t rise and fall with the success of any team — but who is definitely a rabid fan of ensuring that qualified people of color are accorded opportunities they otherwise may not have gotten with the NBA franchise.
“This is my dream job,” she said.
August, on the other hand, was practically born on her hometown baseball diamond. Sports flows through her veins like red blood cells. Her addiction to sports resulted from her older brother playing the game and, after finishing college and not wanting to go into traditional corporate America, found that she could fulfill her love of being connected to sports without having to play it. Besides, it’s hard to tear your ACL while walking through the offices of Turner Sports.
The Sept. 15 event, spearheaded by prolific radio and TV personality Rashan Ali, helped the audience gain insight into the careers of women who spearhead marketing and PR agencies/organizations inside the sports world. The women talked about the obstacles and challenges of being the only woman and/or black in the sports boardroom, but also how rewarding their jobs are how they use their stilettos to crack the glass ceiling of possibilities.
Nzinga (above) will always have the distinction of being the first-ever Hawks chief diversity officer and she was recruited to her role because, as has been well-documented, “the league it was in a crises (due to the L.A. Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s flagrantly racist pronouncements to his mistress). And most very aware that the Atlanta Hawks were in tumultuous situation,” she recalled, speaking about the controversy surrounding former general manager Danny Ferry’s description of an African-born player. She described the three keys to her role at the Hawks as:
- Internal engagement: in terms of looking for new talent and then “once talent gets there what are we doing to sustain and cultivate that talent.”
- Marketing the fan experience, in terms of what’s produced on stage, “when you come to the games, we want the fans to feel excited, whether you’re Jewish, women, LGBT … We want to make the experience exciting for all people.”
- Strategic partnerships: the team wants to enhance community and corporate engagement and bring greater understanding to the community of what the Hawks are about.
August’s (above) claim to fame at Turner Sports was helping to bring beloved Hall of Famer and four-time champ Shaquille O’Neal to Turner to join the “NBA on TNT” team with Charles Barkley and Kenny “The Jet” Smith. But the poignant and powerful lesson she gave the audience was via an anecdote about discovering her unbreakable passion for sports — which came after he was turned down for a position with the San Diego Chargers, which she called “devastating.”
Instead of crumbling, August said that rejection taught her just how much she loved sports and, more importantly, how hard she was willing to fight to get into the field of sports, a prerequisite to surviving and thriving in this coveted, highly-competitive business. Besides, after she got on with Turner Sports, her passion and skill set prompted her superiors to promote her to a dream position in talent acquisition. And that’s where her and Shaq’s careers intersected, and the rest is history.
Gaines (above) has been employed at some of America’s most iconic sports-based corporations, including ESPN and Nike, the latter where she helped to incorporate the Brazil National Futbol team into the Nike family.
Now at FOX Sports, Gaines and the other panelists implored the mostly female audience to:
- be aware that eyes are always on you because they are a double minority (woman and African American), with August saying using the minority status as an asset instead of viewing it as a burden.
- she also admonished the listeners against blowing up bridges because the sports industry “is very small and people see each other often.”
- Gaines also told young students who aspire for employment in the sports marketing and PR industries to avoid having a “what-can-corporations-do-for-me” mentality when seeking employment, but to develop ways to “be a revenue asset for the company.” When you can illustrate an ability to make companies money, it exponentially increases the chances of longevity, marketability and opportunities for advancement within that organization.
As an added bonus, host Rashan Ali shared some of her greatest successes in both radio and television, as well as her hardest setbacks, some of which are well documented. Ali said that, in the end, she found that her highest and proudest levels of achievement took place when she “decided to just be myself,” she said. “always be authentic.”
Sunny Wilkins, wife of Hall of Fame Atlanta Hawks forward, Dominique Wilkins punctuated the evening evening by informing the audience that she was much more than just a trophy wife. A health and sports enthusiast, Sunny Wilkins is also an attorney and the manager for her husband’s business interests, which include his role as VP of the Hawks and as one of the team’s television analysts. She told the audience that it is paramount that they be themselves, maximize their talents, and to show people that you are more than the package that people think you come in.
For more information about ColorComm, log onto colorcommnetwork.com.
Photos by Terry Shropshire for Atlanta Daily World and Real Times Media.