Entertainment Interview / Interviews

Denise White Reflects on a Game Changing Year

Who do you call in a crisis? For NFL players, the answer is unanimous and without hesitation: Denise White. Her reputation is so unmatched that she’s been dubbed “the Olivia Pope of the sports world,“ which Denise interprets as validation of her career moves. “It’s very humbling to be compared to her. Even though she’s a fictitious character, she’s actually a real character in life. That’s Judy Smith, and Judy Smith in the political world has been an incredible crisis manager for years. I’m very humbled and honored when people say that because they are comparing me to Judy Smith and she has been such a force to be reckoned with in the crisis management arena when it comes to politics. I think when your work is compared to someone of that stature, then you must be doing something correct. That your work is comparative and equally as noticed, then you feel like you’re accomplishing what your goals set out to do.” Having gotten her start in entertainment, she quickly discovered her penchant for athletics – as well as the gaping need off the field. “I had an opportunity to work with an athlete on a whim. And I realized I liked working with the athlete much better than I liked working with the entertainers. I noticed that there was a lack of management and services to athletes after they got their playing contracts taken care of. The agents – not that they didn’t want to, they just didn’t have the capacity or the bandwidth to help athletes off the field. And I thought, ‘Well, if this one athlete needs it, there’s gotta be more athletes that need it.’ I found in the space of the NFL predominantly, the athletes needed a lot of help. The NBA was a little bit different. We worked with some NBA players as well as other sports, but NFL was more of a need and that’s kind of where we landed and where we stayed for a majority of our time is with the NFL players.”

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she’s encountered her fair share of sexism, but it’s only strengthened her determination to continue carving a path for other women. “Let’s not pretend that [sexism and misogyny] is all gone because it’s still alive and well, especially in sports. I am a crisis manager, but I own a sports management company that does crisis management. So we work with a lot of different people in the sports industry. We have one female athlete that we represent. We represent men and we work with predominantly nothing but men. So sexism in sports is still alive and well, unfortunately. I’m hoping that by being a trailblazer and hiring more women and giving more women the opportunity to do what I do will help curb that problem in years to come.”

Denise’s company, EAG Sports Management, was designed to serve any and all management needs. “EAG was formed to pick up where the agent left off, handle everything outside of the player’s contract. So that would be public relations, marketing, management day to day, philanthropic endeavors. I mean, we handle everything – television, TV contracts, all broadcasting, anything you can think of that an athlete might do off the field or outside the court or outside of the octagon or off the soccer field, we handle it. Marketing opportunities, endorsements, you name it. We handle it. I do most of the contract negotiations for our athletes when it comes to endorsements and marketing opportunities. Then, crisis management came into play a few years later when we had an athlete that got into trouble. So EAG has evolved into this kind of one stop shop where an athlete can get his needs met in one place. He doesn’t have to hire a marketing person. He doesn’t have to hire a publicist. He doesn’t have to hire a philanthropic person. He doesn’t have to hire a day-to-day manager. He or she can come to EAG and get all of the services met in one place.” EAG encompasses far more than just crisis management, but Denise is always ready to strategize if things go sideways. “Every situation is different. Every crisis situation is assessed and handled in the way that we think is appropriate to get them through the crisis. There’s so many different areas of crisis management that it’s not one size fits all. So you have to assess the situation first. There’s every different level of crisis situations, depending on the guy or the girl. What type of trouble did they get into? Were they drunk driving? Did they test positive for PEDs? Did they get an accusation of sexual assault? Did they get an accusation of domestic violence? Are there mental health challenges happening that we need to assess and handle differently? It runs the gamut from a small level crisis to a very big level of crisis. Each one is handled differently because you’re dealing with a different person and a different circumstance.” 

Just five short months ago, Denise encountered a crisis of her own when she suffered a rare stroke. “It was the scariest thing in my life that I’ve ever dealt with and I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity. I feel like God just keeps giving me challenges and I’m always up for them, but this one he could have passed by me and I would’ve been fine with it. I was actually incredibly lucky because the stroke I had is a vertebral tear. They think that my massage therapist is the one that tore my artery while I was getting a massage. They’re not a hundred percent sure, but it is leaning towards that. This is what I can say about when your life passes before your eyes, is that everything you thought was important is no longer important. What’s important to me these days is my friends, my family, the people around me that showed up for me in my most dire of times and things that make a difference in this world. When I know I’m making a difference, whether it’s a client or a group of kids at Christmas time. I wanna leave this earth knowing I made a mark on the sports industry, but more importantly made a mark on people in general and I helped them be better. I helped athletes get out of crisis and be better people. I helped athletes get out of situations that weren’t necessarily their faults. I helped my employees see that there’s an opportunity for women in sports. I helped other women understand that there doesn’t need to be just one seat at the table, there can be plenty of seats for women at the table. I made a difference. What I kind of sat back and took a look at was, did I make a difference in my life? What will I be remembered for? And what is most important to me?”

A fellow sports legend helped her further put things into perspective. “I have a good friend, Tom Condon. He’s the best NFL agent that’s walked the planet basically. He’s represented everybody from Peyton Manning to Drew Brees, you name it, he’s represented them. And he said, ‘When I think about if I’m on my deathbed, the one thing I know I’m not gonna be saying is, gosh, I wish I would’ve worked a few more hours. I’m gonna look back and want my family and friends around me there to comfort me and to be with me in my last hour.’ I kind of took that from him. And I realized, that’s what I want too. When I do leave this earth, I want the most important people that I love, and that love me, to be around me, to know that I was there for them just as much as I was for my job. I love what I do, but it’s not who I am. I think that’s really important to pay attention to because what I do is a service that I love and I am known as a workaholic, but who I am is considerably different with my family and friends. I know that sounds weird. Like, ‘Oh, you’re different than who you are at work.’ And I am, I am very different. I’m very serious and get the job done and hustle, hustle, hustle at work. But at home, I’m a little bit opposite. So I like to take time with my family and friends. I slow down now and I relish the time spent with the people that I love that love me. Things have changed and my perspective of life has changed and how I value life has changed in a multitude of ways.”

The road to recovery has not been easy. Ironically, she’s encountered a lack of understanding specifically because, for better or worse, much of the long-term damage caused by the stroke isn’t readily visible or noticeable. “If I was walking around with my left side paralyzed and I looked like I had a stroke, then people would give me a little bit more understanding. But because I don’t…you come up to me, you would never know I had a stroke. I’m very fortunate. I wasn’t paralyzed. I didn’t lose my speech. What I did lose was my balance, my depth perception, coordination. Because it was in my cerebellum and I was able to regain it in about three to four months. Although part of my brain is dead, I don’t look like I had a brain injury. I don’t because you can’t see it.

There’s no band-aid. There’s no nothing. What I found is that some people were understanding the first couple months, because you know, I wasn’t able to work or anything like that. But then once I got back to work and started being good old Denise, you know, work hard, work hard, do your thing, do your thing, people just forgot. I had a stroke and some days I forget stuff. I know that has a lot to do with my stroke. And I’m like, ‘y’all need to give me a little bit of understanding because I’m only five months out of my stroke and I’m walking around like it never happened.’ Maybe that’s a little bit of my fault because I did recover incredibly quickly and I’m so blessed and thankful for that, but I don’t get a lot of support from a lot of people except my very close inner circle about my brain injury. Or that they don’t even understand it. Because I don’t look like your typical – and I hate to say typical – your typical stroke victim. Like I said, I’m not in a wheelchair. I’m not using a walker. I don’t have any paralysis. My speech is fine. I’m incredibly, incredibly lucky. So I don’t look ‘quote’ like your typical stroke victim or somebody with a brain injury. And I think that’s a good thing, but also a bad thing when it comes to trying to get people to understand that you’re still healing, you know?” In spite of her ongoing struggles, the opportunity to return to work has been a balm to Denise’s mental health. “Being able to go back to work was a big deal for me because I am a workaholic. So looking at my identity, a lot of my identity is what I do and it was just so nice to feel normal and get back to work. I feel so blessed to be able to do what I do and be able to resume it at the same capacity that I was doing before I got sick.”

When it comes to the up-and-coming hopefuls looking to make a splash in the world of sports management, Denise is dishing out tough love. “My words of wisdom are strong ones. I feel like this generation is a lot different than the generation I grew up in and there’s a lot of cons to this new generation, right? There’s some pros, but a lot of cons I’ve noticed. What I would suggest to the newest generation is that your work ethic is your calling card. If you work hard, do not complain. Be the first one in and the last one to leave, ask to do extra, show that you wanna be there, respect your boss, appreciate the opportunities that your employer gives you to work in this industry and really be grateful and show that appreciation. That goes a long way with any employer, whether it’s female or male. I find that this younger generation doesn’t always encapsulate all of these qualities.

It’s hard when you’re looking for employees, especially someone of my generation. I look for someone like me, that’s a hard worker that doesn’t complain, that knows how to get the job done. That is thankful to have a job and that’s appreciative of who she works with. I guess I would say your future employers are people that are looking for themselves a lot of the time. They’re looking for those hard workers and those people that don’t take no for an answer and get the job done. And you know, just all those positive qualities. There’s a lot of entitlement that’s going on in this younger generation. They get out of college, they haven’t worked a day in their life, but they expect to be paid like a CEO. They expect to have the time off like a CEO and you just sit back, and you’re like, what? So I really encourage this younger generation to go the distance. Like I said, work hard, be the first one in and the last one out and ask to be able to help where it’s needed. Really show you wanna be there, be thankful and appreciative to your employer and let people know that you love what you do too.

I think that’s important. I just find that a lot of that has been lost in the shuffle with the younger generation.” Her dedication and hard work will soon be recognized on the small screen, as Denise‘s life will be chronicled in an upcoming television series on a major streaming platform, slated to begin production at the beginning of the year. She wants the show to convey an honest portrait of what was often a steep uphill battle in life. “I hope people get out of the TV show what it took for me to get to where I’m at today because people see me today and they think, ‘Oh, this isn’t hard. She makes it look so easy.’ But the road to get here was…I didn’t take a car to get here, a bus, a train, or a plane. I walked and I crawled and I stumbled and I fell and I needed to be picked up on the way. The road to get where I’m at today was not easy. And I hope that the television show portrays the road that it took to get here. The people that helped me along the way, lessons I’ve learned, the adversity I’ve faced as being a woman in a male-dominated industry.”

By recounting her rocky childhood, Denise intends to spur more productive conversations around complex family issues and how much more support children in the system need. “I also hope [the series] shows mental health issues because part of the show will be about my personal life and the struggles I have with my mother and her mental health. I still think that there needs to be a spotlight put on mental health and it needs to be talked about more, so we don’t think it’s such a taboo topic. I hope this show will be able to portray that and people will be able to talk about it after they watch the episodes.

I was separated from my sister with a really bad child services division in San Diego. I hope that it can shine a light on the help that child protective services still needs in keeping kids together, making sure they go with their family members and trying to keep a family unit when possible, because me and my sister were not afforded that and we were separated until we were 19 years old due to that. So I hope that not only will you get a sense of my work and how I managed to open up this agency and be where I’m at today professionally, but I hope you will walk away from the show knowing about the trials and tribulations of dealing with a family member that has a mental health issue or crisis and learning how to conquer obstacles in your way due to the lemons that life has thrown your way. Adversity can either strengthen you or it can kill you. And for me, it’s definitely strengthened me. Almost killed me, but I’m still here and thank you Jesus that I am. So I hope you get way more out of the show than just sports. I hope that you laugh. I hope you cry. I hope you cheer for me. I hope you walk away from the show with a sense of all emotions and not just one.” Through it all, she’s never forgotten her roots. “I’m just a girl from Escondido who had a dream and was able to work hard to achieve it.”

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Denise White Reflects on a Game Changing Year.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of EAG Sports Management.

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