Next Woman Up: Molly Higgins, EVP of Community Affairs and Engagement for the Los Angeles Rams

Next Woman Up: Molly Higgins, EVP of Community Affairs and Engagement for the Los Angeles Rams

Women are rising throughout professional football, carving out positions of power in a space that has been exclusively controlled by men for almost too long. We’re seeing more women breaking barriers in sport, but what are the stories outside the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? The Next Woman Up series aims to answer those questions. While the Questions and FAQs are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for women of influence to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:

Molly Higgins, Los Angeles Rams

Molly Higgins, Los Angeles Rams

Position: Executive Vice President of Community Affairs and Engagement To see also : Cowboys-Seahawks photos: Peyton Hendershot gets helmet knocked off, players infuriate fans and more.

How did you start your NFL career?

I had the opportunity to join the Rams back in 2002, so my 20th season with the team ended in a Super Bowl. That was really great. But my degree and background was in public relations, and when I joined the Rams, the job was corporate communications and community outreach. It was one department, so I interfered with community outreach efforts. I found out that my passion and what I really want to do. It was my opportunity to combine my love of sports and help people in a strategic way just the way I wanted.

When we made the move to Los Angeles – and knowing that there are more than 5,000 nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles alone, compared to 200 or so in St. Louis – I wanted to focus all of my time on the community. We were able to hire Joanna Hunter from the league office to come and handle corporate communications, so I was able to focus on community outreach.

My background in PR and communications allowed me, early in my career, to be part of many different parts of the business, to really learn and appreciate the interconnectedness of the sports business and the bigger picture. see. At the Rams, we call the flywheel. You have people generating revenue to pay our players and help put a winning product on the field. With a winning team, we are able to make a big impact on the community, tell stories, grow the fan base and deepen fandom. Those early years in corporate communications really showed me how every department, every person, contributes to the success of a franchise.

Before joining the Rams, did you ever want to work in sports?

I grew up in sports and I was an athlete. It has always been my passion. Coming out of college, my dream job would be working in public relations for the Denver Broncos, since I grew up a Broncos fan. I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to work in sports I had to start as an intern and work my way up. I then got the opportunity to join the St. Louis Rams as an intern. I took a step back in my career and made a bet on myself. I knew that I was early enough in my career that if this was a terrible decision, I could correct that time and make it up. At the same time, I believed in myself and wanted to take it from there. Here I am 20 years later.

Can you describe what your job entails today?

My biggest responsibility is that conduit between the community and the Rams. I spend much of my time meeting with people in the community, including education and non-profit leaders, to understand the greatest needs and opportunities facing our community. I bring ideas back to our facility and really strategize how to address those needs. Often, that’s building opportunities for players and helping them find ways to make an immediate impact. Other times, it’s coming back to the office and saying, “This is what the community wants and we have sponsors who want to join us in making an impact in this particular area.”

Another of my responsibilities is to put our players in the best position to succeed off the field and lead them in that space. There are so many non-profits out there, but some are operating at a more efficient level. Partnering with our players is definitely one way to make a big impact on the community.

With someone like Walter Payton’s 2021 Man of the Year Andrew Whitworth, who started out in Cincinnati then moved to play for a new team, what is your role in helping the transition of a player to a new city in terms of community impact?

Andrew is one of my all time favorite success stories. When he joined us in Los Angeles in 2017, I sat down with him in the cafeteria at our practice facility in Thousand Oaks, California. Usually, we talk to players about their passion points and their interests, understanding that everyone’s life journey is different, and we try to meet them where they are and try to pair them with things that resonate. I remember sitting down with Andrew and I gave him a survey. I said, “Here are some of the focus areas. Tell us what you’re interested in.” It was a long survey and he was checking all the boxes.

“Um, I’m sorry. I’m not sure if you understood what I wanted,” I said.

He replied: “I know. I understood the task.”

“Well, you’re checking everything.”

He replied: “That’s because I’m interested in everything. I want to use my platform as much as possible and be as helpful and create as much change as possible.”

I remember thinking, God. We got a special one here. I gave him several opportunities and gained his trust. Then we became thought partners and action partners. He called me last offseason and told me he wanted to do something really big in 2021 because it would be his last year playing in the NFL. He wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do, but we worked together to find something that would fit.

His heart is so big and he is such a compassionate, generous person. Seeing him win the Walter Payton Man of the Year award — and being in the audience and hearing him mention my name during his acceptance speech — is something I’ll never forget. I always say to my team, “I don’t do this work for awards.” But that one hit different. To see Andrew rewarded on the biggest stage in our sport just before the Super Bowl when he was playing the Bengals in our home stadium … It still gives me chills.

Wow, what a great story. Now, I want to go back to when the Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 2016. You mentioned the big difference in non-profit organizations. How did you begin to approach the transition from a community perspective?

We were named the St. Louis Philanthropic Organization of the Year in 2010, so when we moved to Los Angeles, Rams COO Kevin Demoff asked me what our philanthropic priorities would be when we moved. I told him I wasn’t sure, and he was really surprised, like, “What do you mean? We have this successful playbook, so why don’t we do what we’ve done in St. Louis?” I told him I wanted to respect the market because they are so different. I really wanted to take the time to go on a listening tour and meet with educational and non-profit and community leaders to better understand and understand the challenges they face. Then we could devise a strategy to better address those needs. He is a native Angeleno. I am not. And he said, “It seems like a very sound strategy. I know you well and I don’t think you’re patient enough for that. I think you’re going to be frustrated and overwhelmed.”

I told him I firmly believe this is the only way and the most authentic way to do it. I didn’t want to roll out our priorities from St. Louis and say, “This is the Los Angeles Rams.” I wanted us to listen, learn and respond accordingly. He said, “Okay, you’re right. I think that’s the way to do it.”

I probably spent the first year out on the road. Los Angeles is a huge market, but what I quickly discovered was how interconnected it is. My first meeting was with the CEO of United Way, and coming out of that meeting, she connected me with three others. Many doors were opened that way. My life and knowledge base expanded very quickly, and my desire to truly use this platform grew stronger.

In 2016, I was 14 years in this position. I loved what we did in St. Louis, but the move to Los Angeles was a professional resurgence. I consider myself a constant learner and that’s definitely an opportunity here in Los Angeles because you’re always talking to new people and discovering new neighborhoods.

The Rams — and especially you — have received several awards for your philanthropic work. What would you say is the key to success?

A lot of credit goes to the organization. From owner Stan Kroenke to Kevin, GM Les Snead, coach Sean McVay, to the players, to the cheerleaders – they all understand the opportunity we have to improve the lives of others. Many teams say that, but in truth, it’s often lip service. Here I can honestly say it is part of our organizational DNA. When I get calls from our head coach saying I want to help with this Make-A-Wish opportunity or player affairs telling me a player wants to meet with me about getting involved in the community or our sponsorship team saying they are going to get. me more dollars to help with food insecurity… One in five Angelenos is food insecure and that’s just a terrible stat. It really is a team effort. There is a department responsible for community impact, but it is really a shared responsibility. That’s what makes this job so special, and that’s what’s so great about sports. You won’t win alone. You win as a collective.

Much has been written about Coach McVay’s “We not me” philosophy. It’s definitely a football philosophy, but I think it’s also an organizational philosophy.

Since winning the Super Bowl in February, have things changed for you in your role? If so, how?

We certainly feel the enthusiasm. The requests are hot and heavy, whether it is a player, cheerleader or mascot appearances, autographs, community partnerships, etc. I always say to my team – and Kevin shares this sentiment, too – to thrive is to be humble and not change. We are the same organization we were before we won the Super Bowl. We just want to promote everything.

What would you say is the most challenging part of your position?

The need in our community. There is a great need, and when you are out in the community meeting these people and hearing their stories, it is difficult because I want to say “yes” to everything. I want to change the world. I know the problem with that is, if you try to be everything to everyone, it really dilutes your influence. That, to me, is transactional philanthropy rather than transformation. You have to resist that urge, and sometimes you can be creative with how you help. We may not do a big initiative with an organization but we will try to take care of them with an autographed item that they can raise money with. It is tough. You don’t want to just show up for a quick look; you want to create a lasting relationship, and I think we’ve done a very good job of setting those pillars of priority. Many of them are about social justice and things that disproportionately affect our communities of color, including food insecurity, housing insecurity/homelessness, educational inequity, police-community relations and mentoring. We do a lot of mentoring with children, especially in under-resourced communities. The mentoring part is really important to us.

Speaking of mentors, do you have anyone who has helped you in your career?

I’ve had so many — a lot of them know that they’re a mentor of mine and a lot of them don’t know that I call them a mentor. I think it goes back to the fact that I’m always trying to learn, and at the Rams, we have some of the brightest, most innovative people, and I learn from them. I think you can find a mentor in many different places. For me, I have many mentors that I meet in the community. There is so much wisdom and life experience that I learn in Inglewood and Watts in South Los Angeles. It helps me become a better human relations professional, a better person, a more empathetic, passionate person. And it helps me better understand the issues facing our community.

What advice do you have for women looking to start a career in the industry?

I get that question a lot, and I was lucky to be surrounded by people who saw the value in me as a human being, not just as a woman. I understand that this is not the case for everyone. But I think we’re at a really exciting time in sport where people are starting to value different opinions, life experiences and perspectives, and that’s certainly the case with women. There are so many opportunities before us.

Going back to St. Louis when we had our executive team together, for several years, I was the only woman on the executive team. Fast forward to now, we have five women on our executive team. Moreover, some women are in charge of departments. We’re seeing the doors open, and with the leaders we have at the Rams, I think people really appreciate what we’ve done and what we bring as women to the table.

I have been fortunate to be in an organization that values ​​and prioritizes diversity and inclusion. If I’m giving advice to a young woman, it would be to find a progressive organization that isn’t going to put limits on you. If you are in an organization that supports you, the sky is the limit. But you have to find the right organization.

What’s next in terms of what you want to accomplish?

I talk a lot about Watts Rams, an organization that helps bridge the gap between communities of color and law enforcement that we adopted in 2018. program. My dream is to start scaling it across Los Angeles and make this a nationwide program. I hope that other sports teams — in the NFL, MLB, NBA or any other league — will take this model and put it into practice in their communities.

It’s a youth football program, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are now 125 kids in the Watts Rams, and we put them through a technology camp to expose them to careers and opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. We really want them to dream beyond their current reality. It is a program that involves all our current stakeholders, from the players to coaches, sponsors and everyone in between. We get our organizational arms around them and not only offer our mentoring support but give them more educational resources and address basic needs.

You mentioned that 125 children are now involved in Watts Rams. How many were there when the Rams participated?

It started as the Watts Bears, and I was invited down in 2017 to tour law enforcement and learn about the program. At that point, they were two years in, and Watts Rams coach Zarren Thompson told me at that point that they couldn’t recruit 10 players because there was so much distrust in law enforcement in the community. They will go door to door in the housing projects trying to tell community members what they were doing with the program and why they were doing it. A lot of people were skeptical and didn’t want to put their kids around law enforcement because of how they grew up and the world they lived in.

So last year when we taped the NFL commercial, which featured the Watts Rams, we sat back and reminisced about the progress. Now they could field teams for 500 kids if they had more police officers and law enforcement to serve as coaches. When I talk about scaling the program, it is now possible with the support of the Los Angeles Rams endorsement. In fact, the Watts Rams will be participating in a Super Bowl pregame tournament before our 2022 NFL Kickoff Game against the Bills. We look forward to sharing that with them.

It’s great to see that growth in a program like that. My last question for you is: What are you most proud of?

I’ve touched on it all over, but Watts Rams is one of our signature programs. Everything about it is a true blend of youth football and social justice. The impact we are having on those children is so profound. I hear it from those children, from their parents, from the officers. It’s that program that beats everything.

I am certainly proud of Andrew being named the Walter Payton Man of the Year. He is the first player in Rams history to do so, and it was incredible to see him get what he deserved. It is true that there is no one more special. There is so much good in sports and so many athletes doing so many great things, and sometimes it gets overwhelming.

It is also community support from the whole organization. I could go on and on. It just speaks to our culture of giving back and how important it is to all of us.

The Rams will begin hosting their public training camps at Crawford Field on the campus of the University of California, Irvine. The camps will run through mid-August on select dates and will feature a variety of prizes and performances, including one from the Rams Cheerleaders.

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Who is Molly Higgins?

Molly Higgins is the vice president of community affairs and engagement for the Los Angeles Rams.

How do I contact the Rams? 1. Call the Rams Los Angeles Office main line 818-338-0011. 2. Select phone option #2 to speak with a representative Monday-Friday 9:00am-5:00pm.

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