I am a woman who, coming into college, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I didn’t want to come into college undeclared. So, when looking at the list of majors, I chose sport management. “I love sports, I know sports, I have no idea what this is but it should be fun,” was my thought process. Within the first couple weeks of my freshman year I was in my advisor’s office asking him to put me somewhere where I could figure out what I was doing. I started interning with marketing and then shortly after moved to athletics communications and at that point I fell in love.
As my college years flew by I started getting more and more serious about it and knew I wanted to pursue a career in this area of work. When my junior year came around, I started trying to diversify my resume and make contacts with other people in the business outside of my world at Eastern Kentucky University. However, I had this strong desire to find another female to look up to in the field since all the SIDs at EKU were male (doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing). So my boss Kevin Britton put me in contact with a good friend of his at the University of Kentucky: Susan Lax (commonly known as Slax). Through my last years as a student-worker, she is someone I really looked up to from afar and especially do now that I am in my first season as the assistant director of athletics communications at EKU.
Slax is associate media relations director for Wildcat football and has built a name for herself as quite the rock star in college athletics. She is someone who is very much looked up to and highly regarded by everyone in the field - men and women alike - and rightfully so.
“One of the things that has always impressed me the most about Susan is how well she connects with the student-athletes she works with. She is really able to connect with them on their level, regardless of sport or gender, and uses that to build strong relationships that last well after their playing days are done,” explained Britton, assistant athletics director for communications and branding at EKU.
Slax has climbed through the ranks of college athletics, is responsible for a major sport and is someone who a lot of women aspire to be like, and they should. She has won multiple awards, has garnered a lot of recognition and bleeds blue as she has been with UK for 21 years this coming September. She was the women’s basketball contact and secondary football for 18 years before being promoted to the primary football contact in 2016. Prior to Kentucky, she was at Murray State for two years.
She sounds pretty awesome, huh? Well, I’ve met her. She is awesome and she is definitely one of my role models. I hate clichés but, if I turn out to be half of the SID she is, I’ll mark that as a win. Luckily, you get to experience how amazing she is as well since she was able to take a few minutes out of her schedule to do a Q&A with me!
How did you get to where you are now?
I was working as a graduate student/assistant at Murray State University and just learning the ropes. While in grad school, I attended the CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) convention in Denver and networked with a lot of people who had been in the business for years. It wasn’t long before I started applying for jobs and one of the contacts remembered me and recommended me to Kentucky. The rest is history. Being a member of CoSIDA is key to networking and learning all aspects of the business.
What’s the best part of your job? The hardest part?
The best part of the job is working with the student-athletes and helping them become better all-around athletes. Seeing them come in as shy freshmen, barely wanting to talk to the media, to later becoming poised, confident and mature young men/women is so fulfilling.
The worst part is the long hours. It’s a lot of work and during the season, it’s seven days a week and sometimes 80-plus hours. Missing key family time over the years has often been a regret, but I’ve learned to manage it so much better than when I was younger.
What would you say the biggest challenge is being a female in a male dominated profession?
The biggest challenge is earning respect in a man’s sport/world. Some men just can’t understand how a female can work in football. Other men don’t mind it at all, as long as the person (male or female) is doing their job. It’s really all about your mindset. Male or female, if you do a good job, you earn respect.
Can you think of a time when you were discriminated against on the job because of your gender? If so, what was your reaction?
I once had a coach who asked me if I could always drive or fly separately from him whenever he had a speaking event because he didn’t want people to “talk.” It was strictly because I was young and female. He would have never asked a man to go separately to an event. At first, I was upset, but I’ve learned you have to pick your battles and that wasn’t one I was going to fight. I just drove separately, still did my job to the best of my ability and we are still friends to this day.
What is your best on the job story?
WOW! There are a lot! One of my favorites has to be going to the NFL draft to see Bud Dupree fulfill his dream of becoming a professional athlete. He worked so hard and seeing his smile that night was everything. He was so appreciative of all the work we did to promote him as a college athlete and it’s an experience I hope I get to do many more times!
Who is your mentor/person you look up to the most in the field?
I had many mentors when I first entered the profession. Some are no longer SIDs but I have to mention my college tennis coach Charlie Smith and the SID at Freed-Hardeman, Chuck Box, for letting me dive in with zero experience and figure it out. I also have to thank Dave Ramey, Steve Parker and Brian Morgan at Murray State for giving me the first opportunity right out of college at Murray State. All the SIDs and former SIDs in the Ohio Valley Conference showed me the ropes and were always willing to answer my calls and emails. Then, the late Rena Vicini who hired me at Kentucky, was key to my growth as an SID. She was one of the best. She taught me to always edit with a red pen, high-five only with your right hand and never call a Kentucky fan during a game. ☺
A lot of women in athletics look up to you, what words of advice do you have for those women?
Don’t be afraid to work hard and long hours to get the job done, stay in your lane (no one wants to hear how much you know about sports, even though you know more than most people), promptly return calls and emails and be confident in your work. And lastly, always stay professional with your coaches and athletes.
Slax has blazed quite the trail for many in the world of college athletics and, arguably even more importantly has shown women that the metaphorical “glass ceiling” can be shattered.