Let’s face it: Football is more important than politics.

By Ashley Henyan

I am not a football fan; but my older sister, Nickole is. Today, when I shared with her the news that Condoleezza Rice was announced as a serious contender for the Cleveland Browns Head Coach job, she replied, “I would love to be a GM.”

“You would be great,” I told her.

I was speaking the truth.

During our younger days, before gender became a factor, my sister wasn’t just one of the smartest kids in school, she was also one of the toughest.  Football, gymnastics, track and field:  it didn’t matter what sport, she was always the best.

Upon graduating from high school, she accepted a partial basketball scholarship to attend The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. There, she played point guard for all four years. This helped to pay for her Doctor of Pharmacy degree–which she earned just two short months after turning 24. 

After completing her doctorate, she worked multiple clinical positions, simultaneously—then, paid off her student loans and started working her way up the corporate ladder. At age 38, she purchased her fourth investment property: a retirement condo in Naples, Florida. She paid in cash.

Now, she has completed Stanford University’s Executive Development Program and just finished a nearly three-year stint as Vice President (Pharmacy Services and Clinical Operations) for UnitedHealth Groups Optum Division, where she led a team of hundreds of nurses and pharmacists to help patients better understand and manage their health care needs.

Today, and still with UnitedHealth Group, she is responsible for maintaining quality customer service for millions of subscribers and clinicians while achieving performance targets for the healthcare giant’s clinical pharmacy products and services.

But she wants more – because she knows more than science, medicine and business. She knows sports.

When it comes to football, Nickole is a mastermind—and not just with keeping track of the top players and winning teams. She understands the business of football. She can design plays to get the worst offense past the best defense with her left hand while working the numbers for trades, long-term strategy and partnerships with her right.

My sister and other highly qualified women should be serious contenders for top jobs in professional sports—and the gender of athletes on the field should not be a factor. According to CBS News in Austin, TX, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach, Greg Popovich (who works alongside  Spurs Assistant coach, Becky Hammon) claims the only way to make real progress with creating equality for women in professional sports is to hire more women in positions of power. If this is the case, then the NBA, which has hired three women in full-time coaching positions (Jenny Boucek became the third in 2017)  since 1946, has a long way to go. So too, does the NFL. Right now, there are 32 GM’s in professional football. None are women.

The only way to induce permanent change is with steady action. So, today, I call upon all highly qualified candidates – including women – to seek out positions of power in professional sports and apply. Football is more important to most Americans than politics, anyhow. Why can’t the change start there?

In Memoriam: Chilly Willis (Henyan)

A lover of water from birth, Chilly was born on May 25, 2001 in Laurel, Maryland to Ashley Henyan and Kimberly (Panzer) Harris. Ashley and Kimberly were college best friends and roommates – who happened to live on Chillum Rd. (yes, they thought it was hilarious, too). In fact, the street’s name was so monumental, it was the sole contributing factor to Chilly’s name!

Before his first birthday, Chilly was already on the move – off to spend almost two years in the only home he would ever know with a large, fenced-in back yard. There, in Beltsville, MD, he lived with his mom Ashley and his two roommates: Denise Reitan and Mark Murray. He spent his days waiting for UPS, FedEx and USPS to arrive and his nights watching American Idol and Will and Grace with his childhood best friend, Steve Vigilante.

Chilly, age 1, with snorkel.

With a mother who refused to settle, Chilly was soon on the move again, this time to New York state, for a six-month stay with his soon to be father, Don DeLeva. His time in New York was temporary, as Ashley and Don had plans to move to South Florida – where they ended up putting down roots right across the street from beach. Now, Chilly had his very own pool!

Often, when one thinks of South Florida, especially a condo by the beach, retired couples with walkers and early-bird-specials come to mind. This was not the case for Chilly. He enjoyed hosting birthday and holiday get togethers at his pool – joining guests like Heidi Davis, Brooke Franzman and Brandon Eller for as much swimming and drinks as his little heart desired. He also braved many dangerous hurricanes, like Hurricane Katrina. These were the days of fun and friends and Chilly still holds the record for the only dog to visit every bar on Duval Street in Key West—in a single night!

After a few years in Los Angeles, Chilly had perfected the perfect “head-shot pose!”

By 2008, Chilly found himself on a plane to Los Angeles, with his now single mom. Over their more than nine years in LA, Chilly lived like a star! His tenth birthday party was held at the Downtown Standard Hotel—with live entertainment courtesy of Jason Lee Bruns and John Twiford (and of course, a roof-top pool!) And, when he wasn’t shopping in Beverly Hills, he often hiked in the canyons, right alongside A-listers and their furry friends.  In accordance with living his best LA-life, weekend trips to Las Vegas became not only common, but a necessity!

With his mom making a career change and heading to graduate school, Chilly went bravely on his own, back to Maryland – to Annapolis this time – to live with his loving Aunt Nickole, Uncle Jason and canine cousins, Austin and London Mitchell. With his interim-family, Chilly enjoyed frequent getaways to his grandparents’ home on Keuka Lake. There, he spent warm summer days and star-filled nights wine-tasting, boating and jumping in the lake to chase local ducks.

In July 2018, after spending the previous two years back with Ashley in California, Chilly moved to Atlanta.

Chilly, age 17, at his home in Atlanta, GA.

Georgia would be his fifth and final state of residence.

Chilly passed away on November 15, 2018 at the People’s Pets Veterinary Hospital – in Tucker, GA.  He was 17.5 years old.

He was a frequent traveler (first-class, all the way), a lover of drive-thru restaurants, a fanatic for carrots, a talented acrobat and for his entire life, he strived to speak English words like “pork-chop,” “spaghetti,” and “Mom!”

Before his death, he had already inspired a Children’s book series, Chilly and London Go to School, a short-animated film, Chilly Harris: Red Cross Volunteer, and the non-fiction, published piece (The Penmen Press, 2017), “My Editing Role Model.”

Chilly is survived by two canine cousins, London Mitchell and Mondi Henyan and upon his passing, countless friends and family in Africa, South American and the Continental U.S. had to be notified, including: Pete Henyan, Abi Henyan, Penny Henyan, Nnana Mangadi, Athena Henyan, Jojo Henyan, Doug Henyan, Joann Henyan, Peg Webb, Todd Webb, Lindsay Webb, Mike Webb, Jamie Meteer, Deepak Ramapriyan, Kevin Burke, Amber Weaver, John Carter, Phillip Raya, Jen Phillips and Trey Harris.