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?