When Lorrie-Ann Diaz prepares for a marathon, she trains six days a week for three to four months straight. The vice president of business communications and social responsibility for the Miami Heat has a phrase she says out loud in between the huffing and puffing.
“If it were easy, everyone would do it,” she tells herself through the grueling training.
The weeks leading up to the race consist of sacrifice, determination and endurance building.
“It’s about endurance,” she said. “And it’s not just physical endurance, but mental.”
Similarly, as a woman working in professional sports, she also develops a level of endurance by overcoming challenges through sacrifice and determination. Diaz living out what it is like to be a minority in sports.
Now, part of her job consists of building relationships and advocating for minorities in the Miami community.
“It comes from being a minority three times over: a woman, Latina and lesbian,” she said. “And here I am working in men’s professional sports, who the hell do I think I am?”
The state of Florida is home to the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Orlando City SC, Orlando Pride, Inter Miami CF, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays. While the NASCAR headquarters are in Daytona Beach.
There is no doubt that the sports industry has made progress since the early days of sports broadcasters Gayle Gardner and Robin Roberts. But there is still more work to be done to create a level playing field for women working in a male-dominated industry.
The industry still has room to grow. Three short years ago, in 2020, the Marlins named the first woman general manager in Major League Baseball, Kim Ng.
How do we continue to make strides to normalize women working in professional sports across Florida?
Diandra Loux, a Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter, put the journey of working in the sports industry into perspective.
“This business is not built for women to be in it, that is something that I’ve definitely learned. Like, we’ve had to pave our own way,” she said.
Every path is different, filled with different challenges, opportunities and motives for wanting to work in sports, Loux said.
Loux, who currently works for ESPN Southwest, was a competitive gymnast growing up and learned to love competition. When it came time to decide on a career path, she grew to admire the human element of excitement and emotion from the athletes.
“I think that that’s always been a driving force for me — the competitive nature,” Loux said.
The thrill of covering a sporting event is felt in the air, she said. Attendees can feel the excitement and feel the energy within the stadium or arena. They witness the countless hours of practice it took from the athletes to get to that moment.
For the USF and NYU alumni, Loux finds inspiration in the stories about determination and grit paying off from the athlete she’s covering.
Loux has found a way to connect her passion for sports to her career. Even so, she has lived what it is like to be a woman in sports. She remembers covering the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and seeing only three other women. While representing women in that space, Loux has paved a way for not only herself but for other women in the industry to break through.
Being on a journey to break through any industry can be tough for anyone, which is why it is important to have a mentor’s guidance along the way.
Kendall Lambert, a 2022 graduate of George Washington University, recalls first starting at NASCAR as a track communications coordinator. At the beginning of the role, she said she was one of the only women in her department at the time.
Being young and surrounded by men in the department felt a bit daunting to Lambert at the beginning. But she began to realize that she was surrounded by great people on her team.
“The mentors that I’ve had in my job have been really supportive of me and really, like, love to help me grow,” Lambert said.
The team has the power to cultivate a powerful and positive experience for the members.
Cassandra Behar has experienced this during her time with the Miami Heat where she has had five male bosses. Behar started out at the Heat in 2012 as a gameday assistant and game operations intern. Now she is the director of arena marketing and digital PR for the Miami Heat and the arena.
Behar said she has felt empowered throughout her career by her past and current bosses and the various projects and campaigns she has been a part of.
Diaz said being a mentor to those in the industry is one of the career accomplishments she is most proud of. Starting out as a marketing assistant in 1998 for the Los Angeles Clippers, she worked her way up to the vice president level. Now, Diaz continues to share her experience with those around her on the Miami Heat and in the sports industry.
“I think, at this stage of my career, being at the VP level, what I am most proud of is that I look around me, and specifically all of the women that I try and help elevate,” Diaz said. “Because we are still the minority not just in the industry, but even at the Heat.”
Diaz reflects on Behar’s journey starting out with the Miami Heat as a part of the gameday staff, throwing T-Shirts to the crowd and waving flags.
“I just look at her [Behar] and others, and I marvel,” Diaz said.
Being able to witness Behar’s growth in the business to now managing Miami Heat and Arena marketing efforts has been rewarding to Diaz, she said.
“It feels so good to watch and help others’ career development. That is just so fulfilling.” Diaz said.
The journey of a career in sports means learning from the moment you enter the industry.
Adelyn Biedenbach, the vice president of communications for the Florida Panthers, has some advice that she would share with herself.
“I would tell myself to relax. The path that you’re on, you know, will get you to a good place,” Biedenbach said.
Biedenbach started as a communications coordinator with the Florida Panthers in 2013. Now, as the vice president of communications with the Panthers, Biedenbach reflects on her career and knows that the worries she had breaking into the industry would later work out.
Biedenbach’s path allowed her to experience every aspect of communications with the Panthers, and now her job gives her a level of understanding and compassion when managing her team. She says that early on in her career, she said yes to helping wherever it was needed.
When first starting out in the industry, it can feel like a grind. The pay isn’t much, the hours are long and the weeks are all the same. As Diaz said, sports has a reputation for being a low-paying industry in the beginning.
But she offers hope that there is a reward for the hard work that is put in for those breaking into the industry.
“The money will come, and it’ll be worth it,” Diaz said. “It’ll be worth the sacrifice you’re making right now.”
As time progresses, women in sports are continuing to make an impact on the future generation of women.
“The goal is to normalize women working in sports in every aspect of sports, right?” Loux said.
The precedent of women working in sports has to start at the top of organizations.
“That championing of women has to start at the top,” Diaz said. “It just has to start at the top, and it has to be authentic and genuine or if not, I think people are gonna see through you. So, more work has to be done so that we can get to 50% or as close as we possibly can.”
Diaz reiterated the importance of meeting with women who want to break into the industry.
When it starts at the top, there is a standard for striving for equality across the board.
“Really just more people in opportunities at every level,” Biedenbach said. “So interns all the way up to the executive and ownership level.”
Just as no one questions men working in sports, women are seeking the same opportunities available to men in the industry.
“We just want it to be normalized so that we don’t have to think about it,” Loux said.
There is something to be said about the progress that has already taken place.
“It’s definitely going in the right direction,” Biedenbach said. “But there’s still always a lot of room to grow at the Panthers level and at all of pro sports.”
While, at times, it is challenging to be a woman working in sports, the same mantra that DIaz repeats to herself during her endurance training for a marathon can be applied.
“If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
As Diaz compares training for her marathons to working in sports, she recalls the Miami Heat LeBron James era. The Heat went to four straight NBA Finals. That looks like a nonstop season from October to June.
And as she sits back and recalls those years, she reflects on the journey.
“You work your whole career to get to that point,” she said.
And while yes, it did feel like a marathon at times, Diaz now knows the feeling of physically crossing the finish line of a marathon.
“It’s euphoric, quite frankly,” she said.
As more women continue to join the sports industry in not only Florida but across the world, there is a sense of euphoria in knowing that it will be left better than it was found.