In the Face of Fandom: A Leadership Lesson in Grit & Grace

By Brandi Boatner

Crisis is an occupational hazard in communications and is simply part of the job. From climate, to war, to healthcare to social injustice to politics and yes even sports, communicators deal with a variety of heavy topics on an ongoing basis.

According to the Women Heard study, communications professionals overwhelmingly experienced negative mental impacts from the pandemic with women in communications being affected more than men. 65 % of women in communication respondents expected their employers to provide mental health resources – an indicator of how the daily industry challenges (such as a pandemic) affect our work.

But what happens to your mental health in a rare, shocking moment of crisis?

Lisa Salters is a veteran journalist, who over the course of her career has covered traumatic events like the OJ Simpson trial, the Oklahoma City bombing trial, conflicts in African nations and the crash of TWA flight 800.

However, the reporting she did on the sidelines of what was expected to be a typical Monday night football game, will now forever be a part of history. And she deserves praise and recognition for being a world-class, amazing communicator.

Trauma affects everyone differently but being able to practice grace under fire during an insanely emotional moment is an artform. Only the most seasoned communicators have this unique capability and trait.

I like many people, am an avid sports fan. Football is my favorite sport of choice, because growing up in the south, football is religion. While I know American football is incredibly physical and often dangerous, I never expected what happened on MNF to happen let alone for me to watch it – repeatedly.

Seeing Damar Hamlin collapse on the football field on the night of Jan 2 is an image I can never unsee. My heart broke. I was in shock and speechless. Mentally, I was frozen with fear and in pain.

Lisa Salters reporting (and the entire ESPN staff) was my saving grace as she was getting and giving updates trying to figure out what was happening on the field. Lisa made me feel as if she was in the room with me sharing my helplessness and raw emotion. Her reporting made me feel less lonely and helped put my mind at ease allowing my heart to catch up.

As a woman in communications, I fully know crisis is part of the job just like I know football is a physical sport, but it does not make it an easier when crisis happens. I also know as a leader being mindful of my mental health from triggers to trauma and how I deal with those is an aspect that makes me a good leader.

I am beyond words and grateful that the story of Damar Hamlin continues to be a positive one. I won’t say it’s a happy ending because I believe this young man’s story is just beginning and he has quite the journey ahead of him in his recovery.

But I want Lisa Salters to know I see you. NYWICI sees you. And we give you your flowers. Thank you for your grit and grace, your leadership, your loyalty and being part of our phenomenal sisterhood as an outstanding woman in communications.

As women leaders, let’s ensure in the new year we prioritize our mental health not only during times of crisis but as we work toward changing the future of our industry.

Happy 2023!


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