26th Awards Luncheon Worth the Wait


Left to right: WISE Women of the Year honorees Elizabeth Lindsey, Susan Cohig, Rosalyn Durant and JoAnn Neale.

Nearly three years after its last ceremony, WISE returned to New York City's Ziegfeld Ballroom on March 9 for its 26th annual Women of the Year Awards luncheon. With many COVID-19 restrictions being lifted just in time for the event, more than 300 attendees came together in person and celebrated the accomplishments of Susan Cohig, Rosalyn Durant, Elizabeth Lindsey and JoAnn Neale.

"How's everybody feeling to be inside of a room with a bunch of other people that you can speak to and give handshakes to?" emcee Maria Taylor asked at the beginning of the program, voicing the relief felt by all to finally be putting the era of teleconferencing and social distancing in the rearview mirror. The NBC sportscaster also observed that one of WISE's goals is to help women understand their collective value, "And I can't think of a better way to help women understand their value than to honor them, pull them up on a stage and say, Yes, ma'am, you are doing the thing."

In her welcome remarks, WISE national board chair and president Kathleen Francis summarized the organization's entire mission clearly: "We want to see more women and women of color entering and advancing through the ranks in traditional and emerging areas," she said, acknowledging that the task will not be easy.

The Sisterhood of WISE

The first to receive her WISE Women of the Year Award was Susan Cohig, the NHL's executive vice president for club business affairs, introduced by 1998 honoree and current Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, who said, "Whenever Susan talks about the business of hockey and/or the role of women in sports, I'm always struck by her thorough grasp of issues and her tireless advocacy for the advancement of women in all forms. She's truly one of the executives — female or male — that I most respect and admire in our business."

Cohig spoke of the "village" that helped mold her — "a long line of really fierce and strong women who were role models going back generations" — and of a new community that she is honored to be a part of. "Rosalyn, Elizabeth and Joanne, I feel like we are sisters as WISE honorees, and a special class I will forever value and cherish."

Encouraged by Progress

JoAnn Neale, the president and chief administrative officer of MLS, was introduced by the league's longtime commissioner Don Garber, who spoke of Neale's "immeasurable impact" on the growth of soccer in the United States.

Looking out across the ballroom and seeing so many other impactful women who share her passion for sports left the MLS executive feeling optimistic about the future.

"The lens through which my daughters view the opportunities associated with sport is vastly different from when I grew up," Neale said. "They see a world of opportunity for female athletes and business leaders, which is really a tribute to how far we've come as an industry."

The Meaning of Success

Rosalyn Durant worked her way up from an internship at ESPN to being the head of the network's college sports business to her current role as senior vice president of operations at Walt Disney World Resort. Her responsibilities are many, but she shared some of the insight into how she has come so far.

"I bring a lot of heart to this work, to this industry. My desire is to make it better," Durant said. "It is my desire to be a helper. I see myself as a servant leader and as a guide through my own experiences and my missteps, and to be a lifter of women and of all people. That, my friends, is what success means to me."

Into the Light

Few females have made the kind of difference in the sports world that Elizabeth Lindsey has. Her work at Wasserman in founding The Collective — a platform for raising the profile of women and creating opportunities for them in sports — is one of countless positive impacts she has had on the industry. As the president of brands and properties for the sports marketing and talent management company, Lindsey said she has much to be thankful for and that it was her mother, who attended the luncheon, who helped instill that mindset in her at a young age.

"I actually believe that gratitude is a gift you give yourself," Lindsey said. "If you can find things big and small to be grateful for, then it minimizes the dark moments in life."

It was a fitting remark near the conclusion of an event that felt like a ray of sunlight at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Said Francis, "It was definitely worth the wait."

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