Black sports professionals

Diverse Representation Spotlights Black Sports Professionals During Super Bowl Weekend

Jaia Thomas, Esq., founder and CEO of Diverse Representation, highlighted the achievements of Black sports professionals and need for more diversity in the industry

A record-breaking 123.7 million people tuned into Super Bowl LVIII on Feb. 11, watching the Kansas City Chiefs secure their second consecutive championship and R&B superstar Usher Raymond bring a taste of A-town to Sin City during his halftime performance.

Yet, beyond the big game, it’s the league of professionals working behind the scenes that keep the NFL and its players operating efficiently. Those representing athletes don’t get nearly as much recognition as the players on the field. Meanwhile, it’s often even harder for Black professionals to break into or get opportunities for advancement within the sports industry. That’s why sports and entertainment attorney Jaia Thomas, Esq. launched Diverse Representation, an organization dedicated to increasing the hiring and exposure of African Americans in sports and entertainment.  

Jaia Thomas Diverse Representation
Source: Jaia Thomas, Esq., the founder and CEO of Diverse Representation (Photo Courtesy of Diverse Representation)

“I was tired of seeing so many Black athletes and Black entertainers represented by white agents, white attorneys, white managers, and white publicists. I wanted to make sure that more of them were being represented by people who look like them,” said Thomas while in Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend. “The company started as just a directory of all the Black attorneys, agents, managers, and publicists in sports and entertainment. Since then, we’ve grown into different programming and events.”

Ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, Thomas partnered with the Minorities in Sports Business Network to host the second annual “Toast to Black Sports Luncheon” on Feb. 8, honoring two of the five Black NFL team presidents: Jason Wright, president of the Washington Commanders, and Kevin Warren, president of the Chicago Bears.

“Usually during Super Bowl weekend, a lot of emphasis is placed on celebrating players and the people on the field. We just felt like there still wasn’t enough celebration of the people behind the scenes — the agents, the owners, the executives,” Thomas told BLACK ENTERPRISE at the luncheon. “There really wasn’t an event like this during Super Bowl weekend specifically for Black professionals in sports. So, we wanted to create a space to congregate, celebrate, [and] network with Black professionals in the industry.”

Held at Brezza, a refined Italian steakhouse on the Las Vegas Strip, the intimate ceremony included a select group of former NFL players, sports agents, and executives from Goldman Sachs, which sponsored the event.

“Jason is the very first Black president in the NFL. Kevin is the most recently hired president in the NFL, so they’re kind of bookends in terms of Black presidents in the NFL,” continued the Los Angeles-based lawyer. “They’ve both done amazing work within their tenure as presidents and we wanted to honor and celebrate them and encourage them to keep on going.”

Jason Wright
Source: Jason Wright, President of the Washington Commanders, and Kevin Warren, president of the Chicago Bears (Photo Courtesy of Diverse Representation)

While accepting his award, Wright reflected on Warren’s legacy as a mentor and trailblazing Black sports executive. Warren then shared a moving testimony about how he recovered from a debilitating car accident as a child and has since leaned on his faith for guidance, especially during challenging times in his career.

“They both gave amazing, fantastic inspiring speeches upon receiving their awards. They really lit up the room, and I think a lot of people left very inspired,” said Thomas.

In a statement, Shaina Wiel, the founder and CEO of the Minorities in Sports Business Network, said she was proud to curate an event “that not only celebrated Black sports executives, but also created a safe space for fellowship, community, and relationship building. It felt like a family reunion.”

Following the lunch, Warren told BE that the key to career elevation is faith and identity.

“We need to embrace our background, our heritage, but also just having a strong faith. I found it makes life more simple when you just follow the voice and the wisdom and the heeding of God,” he said.

Wright told BE that he’s optimistic about the NFL’s diversity efforts and acknowledged the accomplishments of all the three other Black team presidents: Sashi Brown of the Baltimore Ravens, Sandra Douglass Morgan of the Las Vegas Raiders, and Damani Leech of the Denver Broncos.

“Sandra led the league and ticket revenue. Kevin is making progress on a new stadium deal. Damani did a major renovation. The Ravens continue to outperform for their market. We led the league in all these revenue growth categories,” he said. “The belief in Black intellect to run businesses in terms of dollars and cents is growing, and more people will get opportunities in the future.”

Jemele Hill
Source: Sports Journalist Jemele Hill (Photo courtesy of WME)

In addition to the luncheon, Diverse Representation partnered with William Morris Endeavor, one of the largest sports and entertainment talent agencies in the world, to host a networking event for diverse agents, executives, and managers working in sports and entertainment. The lounge included an open bar, light bites, and a gifting suite featuring Black-owned products such as Tracee Ellis Ross’ PATTERN Beauty, Brandon Blackwood, WILL Perform by Serena Williams, and Harlem Candle Co. The event also featured an exclusive fireside chat with sports broadcast journalists and WME clients Jemele Hill and Cari Champion.

“There’s a lot of attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Hill during the discussion, noting the weaponization of critical race theory by right-wing conservatives. “What I have seen and witnessed is that those same companies that were pledging to listen to Black folks and to do better by Black folks just three, four years ago after the unfortunate murder of George Floyd have all gone running,” she continued. “This is the thing that people have to understand when it comes to supporting marginalized communities: it’s a tough fight.”

Diverse Representation
Source: Sports journalists Cari Champion and Jemele Hill (photo courtesy of WME)

At another point during the conversation, Champion praised Hill for her unwavering support throughout her career and the opportunities Hill gave her while they were working for ESPN.

“When I didn’t believe in myself and I didn’t think I mattered, she had my back,” said Champion. “When I didn’t think that my voice was important in sports and I didn’t think anybody cared about what I said, she invited me on her show to talk about my opinion. She helped me develop a voice. She already had the street credibility, she already had the acumen, and I was a new girl coming in.”

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