Game Changers: Influencers
We asked this year’s Game Changers: Who has had the biggest impact or influence on your career in sports?
Naz Aletaha: Dustin Beck for giving me my first shot at working in sports by bringing me on to the then small and scrappy LOL Esports team back in 2013. Riot’s Jarred Kennedy for allowing me the runway to try, fall, get back up and try again as we built our sport. … And my dad — my first coach — whose passion for the sports he loves was infectious from day one.
Megan Hughes Allison: I can’t think of one single person, but more importantly all of the people who have believed in me and given me an opportunity, including Donnie Nelson (Dallas Mavericks), my entire Genesco Sports Enterprises family, and the incredible clients I have worked with along the way.
Michelle Andres: It has not been one person, it has been a “committee” of people who have influenced my career in sports. From Alex Martins, Joel Glass and Chris D’Orso at the Orlando Magic, to Kevin Byrne and Dick Cass of the Ravens and Priya Narasimhan of YinzCam, all have supported me, propped me up, encouraged me, taught me and influenced me in their own way over the years.
Molly Arbogast: Len Komoroski and Dave Rowan from my early days at the Eagles (2000). They looked past my gender and saw my potential. I was the first woman hired to sell sponsorships for the Eagles. They challenged me every day and their impact on my professional development was immense.
Christine Burke: George Hirsch, the indefatigable chairman of New York Road Runners, who made the introduction that resulted in me working at NYRR. Every day, George is an inspiration and source of vast running and NYRR knowledge for me and the NYRR team.
Shelly Cayette: Every boss I’ve had to date. I’ve been very lucky to work for individuals who have taught me something along the way from their sports experience while allowing me the autonomy to create my own path in our ever-changing environment of sports (Jessica Richardson, Tom Ward, Brad Sims, Randy Domain, Nic Barlage).
Kim Damron: My predecessor, Dave Butler, was my mentor for 12 years and really showed me how to lead with excellence and heart.
Kim Davis: Billie Jean King. I had the opportunity to help Billie build the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, the nonprofit that bears her name. I learned so much about going above adversity and being an authentic leader. She’s amazing.
Jill Driban: My father. He recently passed away and I didn’t realize the impact he had on my career. I fell in love with sports because of him. As a child, I danced with the Phanatic on the Phillies’ dugout because of him. I fell in love with hockey because he loved the Flyers. Sports was our own language.
Wendy Fallen: Bev Plocki, University of Michigan head women’s gymnastics coach, gave me the opportunity to earn my degree from Michigan and compete as her very first recruit. Peg Bradley-Doppes, former University of Denver and UNCW athletic director, was the SWA at Michigan when I was a student-athlete. Her passion and commitment to student-athletes led to my desire to pursue a career in college athletics. Jim Delany has been a proactive, visionary leader and is forward thinking in his actions. He motivates me to always strive for excellence.
Julie Giese: My parents. They are tremendous role models and being dairy farmers, they taught me the value of hard work early on.
Melissa Heiter: Unquestionably, my mentor and boss, Tim Romani. He put his trust in me and created opportunities for me to thrive. Even if I was completely new to something, he’d give me the end goal, some guidelines, and the faith that I would do everything in my power to get it right.
Krista Hiner: My boss, Bryce Blum. He is extremely generous when providing me with the tools, guidance and feedback that I need to grow my career. He provides unwavering support and encourages me to be a leader.
Terri Carmichael Jackson: Without question my husband and NBA world champion (San Antonio Spurs, 1999) Jaren Jackson Sr. has had the biggest impact on my career. His love, support, advice and guidance are the reasons my personal life and my professional life are so abundant.
Michele Kajiwara: Todd Goldstein and Lee Zeidman, who I consider my professional parents (we’re a very “modern family”) — their support, guidance and wisdom have guided and shaped my career.
Meredith Kinsman: Matt Malichio, our senior vice president of creative at Octagon, taught me how to engage consumers creatively through their passion in sport.
Thayer Lavielle: Casey Wasserman. His vision, support and leadership consistently make me think bigger and more strategically while championing the wins.
Melanie LeGrande: Kevin Byrne, executive vice president of public and community relations at the Baltimore Ravens, has been instrumental in my career as a champion, coach and manager for nearly 20 years. His support and encouragement permeated throughout my career.
Michelle McGoldrick: I couldn’t name just one person — it feels like there has been a small army of people supporting me along the way. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had amazing bosses and I’ve worked alongside some incredibly talented people that have truly cared for me and helped advocate for me throughout my career.
Lucinda McRoberts: USA Swimming’s president and CEO, Tim Hinchey. He has provided both the opportunity and the mentorship to transition from lawyer to sports executive.
Jamie Morningstar: My dad, Roger Morningstar. He was an executive at Converse for a long time and we have been able to share our experiences in the industry over the years and his advice and guidance has been essential to my career growth.
Sianneh Mulbah: Timberwolves and Lynx CEO Ethan Casson has had an incredible impact on my career; not only did he recognize my strengths and talents, but put me in a position that allowed me to bring our vision to life, and gave me the autonomy to do what’s best for the people within our organization.
Pamela Murrin: WWE’s co-presidents, George Barrios and Michelle Wilson. They are great leaders, collaborators and strategists.
Laura Neal: My husband, who also works in sports, has created such a beautiful space for me to push myself to take on more responsibility than I ever thought I could handle, while also assuring me that who I am — right now — is enough.
Gloria Nevarez: Charlie Whitcomb at San Jose State gave me my first opportunity to work in college athletics with a law degree and a one-year internship on my résumé.
Moira O’Connor: Tim LeFevour, general manager, SMG-Soldier Field, has grown up in this business, be it with a team or on the stadium side. The knowledge learned just from listening to conversations is invaluable. Tim allowing me to sit in meetings that didn’t pertain to my world, just to get a better understanding of each aspect of the business, has helped me tremendously in becoming better all-around.
Nicolina O’Rorke: Truly, the amazing senior team I work with — I have learned so much from them over the past four years under the leadership of David Preschlack — the industry and historical knowledge and collegial atmosphere.
Djenaba Parker: Definitely my dad. He didn’t work in sports (he’s an engineer, turned corporate executive, turned restaurant owner) but he taught me everything I know about hard work, perseverance and perspective — not to mention, he raised me to be a sports fan.
Ana Shapiro Queenan: Johann Olav Koss. Watching him compete and win three gold medals in 1994 in Lillehammer was impressive and then seeing him take advantage of his moment of celebrity to donate his own winnings and his time to help those in need was inspiring. But then getting an opportunity to work for him at Right To Play years later had a real impact.
Caroline Rebello: First, my family, who crowded around the TV every night to watch the Olympics, fostering my love of sport. Second, every woman who has ever shared her time with me to answer questions, share stories and offer advice — two that stand out are Pam Harris and Laurie Greenberg. Third, every man who hired me — David Finkelstein at Citi was the first. Lastly, the team at EMC and CAA Sports who are an absolute force and make it fun to go to work.
Tracie Rodburg: Former Yankees vice president of marketing and business development Joe Perello, who brought me into this business; and Renie Anderson, a great leader by teaching and by example.
Carla Rosenberg: Jeff Cogen gave me my first full-time job (at the Texas Rangers) and was an incredible mentor to me. He showed me the work ethic needed to execute at a high level and how to be an effective communicator. He was creative in implementing marketing strategies, and he was focused, passionate and tremendously caring.
Tara Gutkowski Schwartz: My father, for setting an example on how to be an engaged and present working parent, and making me believe since day one that I can do anything I set out to. Kathy Behrens, for always having faith in me to get big things done, often before I believe I can do them myself. Todd Jacobson, for his unwavering support, and for letting me play out my ideas and put my unique stamp on everything I get the privilege to work on.
Carrie Skillman: My boss, Dan Parise, has had the biggest impact on my career. He brought me over to Scout seven years ago and provided me with every opportunity to grow and excel in my positions. He sees what I’m capable of before I do and encourages me to take on new challenges to further my development.
Maureen Smith: Dr. Bill McGuire, owner of Minnesota United FC. He’s not afraid to do things differently and he values a variety of perspectives. I came to the sports industry later in my career, but he did not view that as a disadvantage.
Amy Sprangers: Chuck Arnold (Seahawks president). He has been a friend, champion and has always had my back.
Neda Tabatabaie: Shannon Hosford, current CMO of MLSE, hired me into the sports industry and I reported to her for almost nine years. Shannon is a great leader, an excellent marketer who hired great people, created strong teams of high performers who innovated and executed at a high level, fostered a great culture and helped her team develop into leaders.
Tina Thornton: Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” Fred gave me an opportunity to work on “Sunday Night Football” at ESPN early in my career when there were few women in production. He recognized the importance of diversity and inclusion way before this became a focus at companies.
Alisha Valavanis: Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour leads with passion and purpose, she genuinely cares about the people she leads. Sandy demonstrates that a commitment to your values and purpose will create a space for positive impact.
Whitney Wagoner: David Higdon, because he knows what my instinct is and he doesn’t let me shy away from it.