…Well, first of all, you have to take the blinders off of the people that don’t feel like we need to. I think that’s the first step. I don’t know if you’re ever going to change anybody’s mind on how they feel about people that aren’t the same color as them or the same gender as them. I’ve been fighting men my whole career because they never thought that I should be at the table. So I’ve always been trying to prove myself, but I don’t think I should have to prove myself. I think there should be room at the table for me regardless because I want to do the work. Allowing people that want to do the work a seat at the table. No matter what their ethnicity or gender is. Allowing that inclusivity. I don’t know that there are five steps — I think there’s just one. Take off your blinders and allow those that might not look like you or sound like you a seat at the table.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Denise White.
Legendary crisis management strategist Denise White has established herself as the go-to fixer in the professional sports industry. There is nothing that this powerhouse has not tackled using her unrivaled instincts and skills to navigate through even the worst of public relations nightmares. She believes in the power of redemption and patiently guides her clients through otherwise detrimental situations.
White founded her firm, EAG Sports Management, in 1997 to service the management, public relations, marketing and crisis management needs of the biggest names in professional sports. Over the past two decades, she has solidified her reputation as the top crisis management advisor in sports, and has earned the trust of leagues, teams, coaches, agents, advisors, and attorneys alike. Perseverance and tenacity are just a couple of attributes that have been crucial to White’s success. Decades of fighting her way through the “boys’ club” of an undeniably male-dominated profession, White became a pioneer for women in sports. Today, such limitations are far less prevalent in the sports industry, and much of this can be attributed to her relentless work ethic and determination.
White’s work was featured in a seven-page spread in Men’s Journal titled “The Woman Who Bails Out the NFL’s Bad Boys” . The article caught Hollywood’s attention and soon the best in the biz were banging down her door. Jennifer Aniston signed on to produce and star in “The Fixer,” chronicling Denise’s life. Originally intended as a future film, it is now due for production in 2021 as a television series for Apple TV.
Known as the Olivia Pope of the sports world, Denise has been named a “Game Changer” by Sports Business Journal, was inducted into the Boys & Girls Club Hall of Fame, and serves as a CNN sports contributor, all while continuing to be the go-to crisis manager for professional athletes in crisis.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up on a farm with my grandmother. I had been in foster care until she stepped in to raise me. After that it was just the two of us.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Secret. That changed my life. I really bought into the whole idea of attraction and what you manifest will be. It really helped me guide my career quite honestly.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“You can’t go back to change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Meaning I can’t change how I was raised. I can’t change that my mom was mentally ill. I can’t change being separated from my sister. I can’t change any of the past. But what I can do is change the ending of my story. You can’t change how you start out and let me tell you something, I made so many mistakes along the way when I first opened my company, so many mistakes. I can’t change those but I certainly can change the ending. I learned from those mistakes and won’t make them again. I have control over what that looks like, you know.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think the ability to lead is something that comes from within. I believe that you’re born with it. For me, I believe that my circumstances as a child helped to shape my destiny of becoming a leader.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Well, for me, I’m all about meditation and massage. If I’m being quite honest, I get massages all the time. It really just gives me that hour to relinquish everything in my life.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Like anything, when something is blatantly happening in front of your face and to you, it’s only a matter of time before you react and demand justice. I think with all of the instances that are happening from George Floyd to all the social injustice and the racism in general that’s been happening in this country for decades, at some point you’re going to find people (not just people of color) standing up to injustice and want to right the wrong. I think it just came to a point, in the middle of a pandemic with these injustices happening in front of your face. People are just done. There’s this old saying, “You can kick a dog, you can kick a dog, you can kick a dog. And someday, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, you keep kicking that dog, that dog is gonna turn around and bite you.” And so my analogy is: you can’t get kicked so many times and not have a reaction.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
We have a client who has made it his life’s work to not only seek out social injustice but to spread the word and prompt others to join his initiative. We have another client who put his own Black Lives Matter march together. We helped him, of course. It was the biggest march in Denver, Colorado. So we were able to put that together for him in the middle of the pandemic. We have another client who’s based in Kansas City and has an organization in New Orleans (where he’s from) that teaches young men and women of color how to get out of their circumstances — whether they’re in a household that is not supportive or they’re in a community that’s poverty stricken. He literally makes time to talk to these kids every week and help them figure out their life plans. I have another young man who is headed to Capitol Hill to push for social justice reform.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Let me tell you, it’s so important to have a diverse executive team because you have to know where your clients are coming from, whether it’s women, whether it’s women or men of color, whether it’s economic background — I can tell you it helps us. A different person of every ethnicity brings something new to the table and it’s all about inclusion. You have to diversify because that’s what the world looks like today. It’s not just black and white. We need to exemplify what the world looks like to be successful with the clients that we work with.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
Well, first of all, you have to take the blinders off of the people that don’t feel like we need to. I think that’s the first step. I don’t know if you’re ever going to change anybody’s mind on how they feel about people that aren’t the same color as them or the same gender as them. I’ve been fighting men my whole career because they never thought that I should be at the table. So I’ve always been trying to prove myself, but I don’t think I should have to prove myself. I think there should be room at the table for me regardless because I want to do the work. Allowing people that want to do the work a seat at the table. No matter what their ethnicity or gender is. Allowing that inclusivity. I don’t know that there are five steps — I think there’s just one. Take off your blinders and allow those that might not look like you or sound like you a seat at the table.
I built my company with mostly women running it for a majority of the 23 years. I did that on purpose. Not that I didn’t hire men or wouldn’t look at men. It’s just that women in sports never really got a fair shake and never got to sit at the table. I experienced that so much myself, and still do quite honestly, that it just gives me more fuel to be able to go after what I want.
People have to stop saying you can’t do this because you’re a woman or you can’t do that because you’re a different color. I need people (which are usually old white men) to shut up and sit down, and let those that are qualified and willing to work hard to do the job right.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Yes, and the reason why I say yes is because I have hope. I’ve always had hope. You know, what do you have if you don’t have hope? I hope that we can come together as a country, as a world, because we have far more things in common than we don’t. Joe Biden said, “We are the UNITED States of America.” I, for one, feel that way. All of my clients are of color, all my close friends and best friends are of color. I’ve never felt differently because their skin wasn’t my color. And my hope is that more people can understand that you love someone because of their heart, not because of the tone of their skin. You admire someone because of what they bring as a person, not because of the color of their skin or their gender. So if we can get past looking different and yet being more the same, I feel like we win.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Yes, Barack Obama. I just felt he brought this country together in a way that nobody has ever done before and maybe it’s because he was the first president of color. Or maybe it’s because I just fell in love with him and his wife so much when they were in office. But I really felt like he had a way of bringing this country together that nobody has done before — and really bringing this country together — not seeing any color lines. I remember when he won, I went out and bought 10 copies of The New York Times. I thought, this is going to be a collector’s item because he’s our first president of color. That was the first time ever in my life that I felt hope for our country in a diversified way — that we could start to mend and come together as a country without there being racial barriers.