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Celebrating Women in the NLL

There are women working in all facets of the NLL, from game operations to marketing to team ownership. A woman is writing this story. You don’t always see them or even know who they are, but the product you watch on the floor wouldn’t be the same without them.

For Women’s History Month, we talked to three talented, passionate and knowledgeable lacrosse women to celebrate their contributions to our league: Devan Kaney, Dana Jackson and Terri Giberson.

Devan (@Devan_Kaney), Sr. Producer/Host, NLL

Devan is one of the public faces of the league as host and senior producer of the NLL’s video features. She has been with the league since 2018 and has grown into the league’s most dynamic storyteller. She is also the broadcast host for the Philadelphia Wings, and the host of ESPN linear games, which she says is her proudest professional achievement to date.

“The more I learned the sport of lacrosse and the more I got to know the players in this league and their incredible stories, the more detailed and deep I felt I could get with stories and interviews and it was just a natural progression.”

Dana (@DanaJacksonnn), Community & Public Relations, Halifax Thunderbirds

Dana holds a significant place in league history as a founding staff member of two different franchises. She was there when the next-gen Philadelphia Wings were born and helped establish their brand identity, and then assisted with starting up the Halifax Thunderbirds. Currently, she’s on maternity leave with her second daughter, but always has an eye on the goings-on at the office.

“It’s a fun sport and once you watch one game you won’t want to stop. You never know who’s going to win. You can be down a lot but you’re never out in this game.”

Terri (@TerriGiberson), Director of Business Operations, Toronto Rock

Terri has been with the Rock for 18 years, and in 2019 was awarded the NLL’s Executive of the Year award. She works tirelessly in the Rock community to promote the game and is most proud of the work she has done with the Jr. NLL Tournament, an event she has been with since its inception and that grows bigger and more anticipated every year.

“I am definitely also proud of the Rock’s fundraising efforts over the years with our longstanding charity partner Smilezone Foundation and the money we’ve been able to raise (thanks to our loyal and generous fans) to support the initiatives that our team feels really strongly about.”

To work in the NLL is to love lacrosse. Even if you don’t come into this league already a passionate lacrosse fan, you become one pretty quickly. Unlike the players who are born into the game and grow up with a stick in their hands, the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to promote the game come from different backgrounds. Some grew up sports fans; others fell in love with sports later. Canadian or American, it doesn’t matter.

Devan, Dana and Terri are integral to the success of the NLL, but how did they get to where they are? Was sports a lifelong love or the best opportunity at the time? It’s a little of both, for everybody.

Both Dana and Devan got their start in local TV but always wanted to work in sports.

Dana’s mom was an All-American lacrosse player and she herself was a college gymnast and golfer, so sports were always in her plans, although she started out wanting to be a broadcaster.

“I gained a lot of experience from local TV but I also learned that people don’t really watch local TV stations for their sports news. They’re more likely to turn to ESPN,” she says. An internship with Villanova Athletics, and then a position with the America East Conference, taught her more about the internal communications and social and digital media side of sports.

Devan gained a multitude of media experience through local and national positions until she went back to school for her Master’s in Journalism at American University. Shortly after graduation, the opportunity with the NLL came up.

“I love being known for lacrosse and being used as a resource,” Devan says. “It’s really flattering. I appreciate how far I’ve come in this sport and the recognition I’m getting for the work I’ve done. I don’t take that for granted.”

After her undergrad, Terri wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, so took some time to travel before applying to George Brown College for a Sport and Event Marketing post-grad. The first job she applied for after graduation was in the ticketing department for the Rock. She didn’t get it.

“But then a few months later I got a call from the Business Manager at the time who said they really liked me when I came in for my earlier interview and they offered me a job as a receptionist” she remembers. “I gladly accepted, knowing it was a ‘foot in the door’… In the early years, under the previous ownership of Brad Watters, I worked as Events Coordinator, Public Relations Coordinator, and Office Manager. When Jamie (Dawick) bought the team, he provided me with the opportunity to fill a leadership role and oversee the business operations and that’s where I’ve settled in over the years.”

Though they have their primary duties, it’s true that a role in sports requires you to have your hand in everything. All the women wear a lot of different hats in their positions. No two days are the same and that’s accurate at both the league and the team level.

Devan will have calls, interviews and recording sessions scheduled throughout her business days, and game days are even crazier. She has to prepare for every possible storyline that could play out in the game from something statistical to the more human-interest side of the game.

“Sometimes whatever team is playing, I’ll watch their whole last game to prepare,” she says.

Working in communications and community relations means that Dana needs to be involved in everything that happens in Halifax. She has to keep her ear to the ground in the city, and also needs to be aware of what’s happening in-house. She coordinates player appearances, charity events and game nights. She helps out the marketing department and pitches stories to media.

“Mondays and Tuesdays are recaps of the weekend, so I will make sure I have everything in place for the week ahead. Depending on whether it’s a home game, I’ll reach out to visiting PR, local TV and radio, figure out game day lineups, credential lists, see who needs what, and set up interviews for the broadcast team. Prepare the theme for the game, like if it’s a military night or Pride night. It’s a whole lot of everything.”

There’s no such a thing as a typical day, says Terri. “There’s barely a typical week. You’re looking at game weeks versus non-game weeks and then in-season business versus off-season business operations… nothing is the same!”

Sports is a traditionally male-dominated field, and it can be hard for women to break into the business for both personal and professional reasons. The NLL has been a great place to grow their careers for Devan, Dana and Terri, because it is already a diverse and welcoming environment. Women occupy key roles on every team and in the league office, and that starts at the top with Jessica Berman, says Dana.

“You have someone powerful like her leading the charge, it shows you how far you can go,” she praises.

She points to former Wings’ Chief Operating Officer Lindsey Masciangelo as an inspiration, and someone who really understood the work life balance and the need to work smarter, not harder.

“When I interviewed with her I could tell she was building a great team culture,” Dana says.

None of the women interviewed have ever felt like they’re unwelcome in lacrosse, which speaks to the high quality of people that both work and play for the NLL.

“If I recall correctly, it was the late Terry Sanderson (who I had had a lovely relationship with over the years) who told Jamie to make sure I stuck around with the team when he bought it. I have never been made to feel I couldn’t contribute to the team in any way because I am a woman,” says Terri. “I have also been fortunate to make quite a few road trips over the years with the team and probably some of my favourite Rock memories are the ones where I was tagging along on the bus to morning shoot around or joining the coaches or training staff for meals. From players, coaches, trainers and management – it was always business as usual and no different because I was there.”

Devan, however, cautions that she always works her hardest not to earn anyone’s ire, and realizes that women are sometimes held to higher standards.

“I always try to do the best job I can because that way no one has any ammo to put me down with or discredit me with,” she explains. “Women don’t have room for error in sports… My biggest fear when I’m on air is that I never want to say the wrong stat or pronounce a name wrong so I try to be the best that I can be. It’s so easy to lose respect or credibility.”

Though, she stresses, that everyone in lacrosse is “super, super respectful.”

Dana says that sometimes it’s hard being the only woman in the locker room, but she tries not to worry about it and instead recognizes the women who came before her and paved the way for her to be there. She says that coaches are very accepting of the job she is there to do.

“I don’t know that I could have worked in sports 50 years ago,” she says. “These days, no one treats me differently because I’m a woman.”

Luckily, that’s been her experience in other sports as well.

“Coach Andy Talley at Villanova football made me feel super included and invited me to everything. There was never a situation where I couldn’t go to something because I was a woman.”

Feeling like you belong somewhere is key to a happy work-life balance. And lacrosse is not just a 9-5 job: it’s a full-time commitment. Each woman loves something different about the NLL, in addition to how fast paced and high scoring it is.

“I feel like most teams in the NLL have really found a way to incorporate something for everyone,” says Terri, speaking to the game experience as a whole. “And while the game itself is what’s most important, I love the creativity of teams who are always embedding other entertainment elements throughout the game, on social media, at events etc. and all in such a powerful way to keep fans engaged and coming back for more.”

Devan enjoys how close-knit the league is.

“I love that when I walk into an arena the players greet me. Everyone is really friendly; there aren’t any really big egos. There are no LeBron James’ walking in with security. Everyone feels very accessible and I honestly consider a lot of the players, coaches and staff my friends, and I think that’s really unique to the sport and our league, where everyone knows each other.”

Dana says lacrosse can change your life for the better.

“It’s a hidden gem, and not enough people know about it,” she details. “Introducing people to it is so much fun because they get hooked right away, especially out here in Halifax. It changes lives. It’s something they maybe never would have tried.”

And that’s true for those working in lacrosse, not just enjoying it as a fan. Each interviewee would love to see more women working for teams and leagues, and had the following advice to offer for those looking to break into the business:

“I would tell them to put the effort and energy into learning in each phase of their career path,” says Terri. “Not knowing where your path is taking you is okay, but working hard and taking in as much as you can along the way and learning as much as you can from the people around you is extremely valuable. Make those connections with anyone and everyone!”

Dana agrees that it’s about who you know, and that connections are key.

“You just need that one opportunity. Knock on doors and be persistent. Apply, apply, apply. Take what you can get, even if its internships.”

Devan points out that you don’t need to follow a traditional career path these days, and encourages young women to start creating their own content.

“Don’t assume because it’s sports that you can’t work in it, even if you don’t have experience,” she says. “Just go for it. There’s TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, the options are truly endless. We’re lucky to live in a day and age where you don’t have to have a job to be on air. You can put yourself on air with TikTok. Choose your niche, what you want to cover and just start doing it. The audience will come.”

So, what can women do next in the NLL? Anything. Dana and Devan would both like to see a female commissioner again in the future, and Devan also wants to see more female owners in the league.

“People don’t realize that the ownership and the board members decide a lot of things for the league. Having more women make those decisions would be a big step forward.”

Devan also thinks that women can occupy more space on the bench as well, whether that’s as a trainer or someday, even a coach.

All three women will be keeping a close eye on Week 18 of NLL action. Terri’s Rock have two games; Friday they visit the Swarm and Saturday host the Seals. Dana will be watching her Thunderbirds Friday night in Rochester, and Devan will be on the sidelines when the Wings host the Bandits Thursday night.