Running with the Boys

Some days you're shoulder to shoulder with Denzel Washington and on others Michael Jordan is checking to find out how you've been doing. Though during many, many more days you're staring at four walls—very nicely decorated, however, in a hotel room somewhere or trying to explain to Ron Mercer why it's really, really a good idea to do that interview. No, really, c'mon Ron.

"People think it's always a glamorous life, flying around on private planes with famous athletes, five-star hotels. Though for me often being the only woman, yes, it can be a lonely existence sometimes," says Bulls Director of Public and Media Relations Sebrina Beyer.

"But don't get me wrong. Not too many people have the opportunity to have the dream job," says Beyer. "I was fortunate to be able to do that. For the last 20 years, I've had a job where coming to work doesn't feel like a Job. I can't say there was one day I got up and didn't want to go to work. You get tired and worn out, but it's such an enjoyable place to come to work. And I always say I could never have worked in pro sports for a better team in any league.

"I've been so fortunate," says Beyer. "All this is pulling at me; I have such a heavy heart leaving this organization. It's all I've known. Not too many people get to work for one organization like I have basically right out of school. Not only a pro sports organizations, but to have experienced three championships, Jerry (Reinsdorf) allowing us to go to the championship trips, having had rings for us to make sure we felt included in the championship process. These are things I can cherish forever.

"I don't know if my kids will believe I worked here and saw all this."

There's ambivalence for both the Bulls and Sebrina. That's because Beyer is leaving the organization after 21 years, 16 in media relations, which is the second longest tenure in franchise history in the department. Beyer recently gave birth to twin sons with her husband, David, director of Basketball Operations for the Miami Heat. They conducted a long distance marriage for the last three years. But the birth of their children forced a decision.

"Everyone says congratulations for getting out of the cold weather," Sebrina says with a laugh. "But it is bittersweet. We both love our jobs, but it seems when people move to Miami you can't get them out of there."

So Beyer is moving on. But she leaves a legacy of authority and professionalism as one of the pioneers in a mostly man's world where she was another strong woman who helped continue shattering the glass ceiling in professional sports that is quickly disappearing thanks to the presence of women like Sebrina.

"I want to thank Sebrina for all her hard work," Joakim Noah said in a message when he heard about Beyer's departure. "(Her) job was far from easy dealing with all these hoopers. But (she) always did everything with a big smile and positive energy. Enjoy mommy life Sebrina. All love and respect."

It's been one fast break of a life for the once shy kid from Gray Court, S.C. near Greenville, who was the No. 1 sports fan in the family. More so than her brother or sister, one a police detective and the other a judge. Not an athlete, though a cheerleader in high school, Sebrina remembers sitting hours with her father watching games, attending high school and college games in her native South, where it is big weekend entertainment. Always dreaming one day of a life she would have but never could imagine.

"I always loved sports," she recalls. "I thought maybe I could do TV broadcasting. I was a good writer, but I don't write well under pressure. So I knew the newspaper thing was not for me."

She latched onto a job as an undergraduate at the U. of South Carolina in sports information, basically doing the grunt work of releases and copying and writing up swimming, diving and volleyball games. Still, it was love at first spike. With sports opportunities tough for undergraduates, she went for a master's degree at the United States Sports Academy in Alabama. She was working on an internship at Northwestern and continuing to send resumes to professional teams when she got that call. It was from the Bulls in community relations in 1994, a dream come true.

"I was, 'Darn,'" Sebrina laughed. "Of course they'd call me now that Michael left.'"

Jordan soon returned, as we know, but Beyer, then Sebrina Brewster, was just as thrilled, helping answer fan mail, coordinating local events like the Shoot the Bull and Gatorade summer clinics. It was a blast.

Then with the turnover on the team after Jordan's final Bulls retirement came changes throughout the organization. There were openings in media relations, where staff work directly with players and media, coordinating interviews, preparing publications and media guides and solving problems.

"I felt like it was a great fit for me with my undergraduate work in TV broadcasting, my skills and my journalism major," said Beyer. "I loved community relations, seeing kids and their interaction with the players, being out in community. But media relations was a great opportunity."

Yes, even with those 15 and 17-win Bulls teams.

"Sebrina worked tirelessly," recalls Elton Brand. "She always had a positive vibe even though we stunk."

It also was a learning process because professional sports have mostly been a man's world, especially in that era. Most of the media members were male and it was rare for a woman to be part of a team traveling party. Now, the Spurs have a female assistant coach. The Bulls have a female trainer and female masseuse who travel. Back then for the Bulls, it was basically Sebrina, who quickly adopted the Hillary Clinton wardrobe. Not for any political affiliation, but the pants suit suggested conservative. Often it's more difficult for women in these situations. What's taken for granted with men, especially back then, could receive an unfair second glance with woman. And not just walking into the locker room.

"It wasn't new to be around athletes," Sebrina says. "I did that in college. The hard part was going into the locker room with players still dressing. You felt like you were invading their space. A lot of times I'd open the locker room door and yell, ‘Five minutes,' which meant grab a towel, put something on; we're coming in soon.

"For the first few seasons, I rarely went into the locker room unless I had to pregame or post game. No one ever disrespected me," said Beyer. "But it took some getting used to. I always prided myself on being professional; so I made sure no kidding around, no joking around. This is my job.

"It was easier for guys probably," agreed Beyer. "Things that wouldn't even be noticed. A woman in the locker room is noticed. I always wanted to make sure not to draw attention to myself. So I'd be asked, ‘Why are you so serious?'"

It was necessary, but not something that would overshadow her welcoming personality.

"She was good with the players, the coaches," said Tim Hallam, the Bulls longtime Senior Director of Public and Media Relations. "She could be a mother, she could be a sister, and she could be hard nosed p.r. The thing about Sebrina is she was always professional and I know this sounds p.r. and cliché, but she was organization first. This is a woman who was extremely dedicated. You wanted her honestly, loyalty and it came with a smile.

"You always worked hard to educate the players, but she was good with them if they wouldn't do something," said Hallam. "She was good about getting them back on track, explaining, ‘This is why you need to do it; this is why it's important to you and the organization.' She was really good about getting a positive response from the players. They liked her and respected her."

And Sebrina learned from strong role models who came before her, like Cheri Hanson and Julie Fie.

"The bottom line is she's a pro; it doesn't matter what her gender is," said Fie, Phoenix Suns Vice-president of Basketball Communications and the dean of traveling women media staffers having been on the road with teams the last 23 years. "You know she is professional with how she deals with her peers in the business, how she deals with everybody around her, the media. She respects them and you can tell there is great respect for her. If you ask something of her it's going to be done. There's nothing more a p.r. person wants than people you can count on. She's drama free. That's not something that is gender specific. She's a pro; she'll come through. That doesn't always happen and she does it in such a graceful way."

So yes, there are a lot of meals in your room, and it's a busier day on the road that most would imagine with media and player needs at shoot around in the morning, coordination in the afternoon, on the bus to the game with the team two to two and a half hours before, handling media and ticket requests for players, a late night flight home after midnight and then in the office the next morning because office staff work regular nine to five even though you're also at a road game at night.

Of course, they're also not running across Denzel.

"One time at a Lakers game, you're right there on the floor and there's Denzel Washington right with you," Sebrina recalled. "I'll admit that time I was mesmerized even being around so many athletes and celebrities. Going to Charlotte, Michael comes by the locker room and says, ‘Where's Sebrina?' That makes you feel good. There were so many good guys. I wouldn't say I was ever disrespected. Sometimes a veteran who'd been around a long time doesn't think you can tell him something he doesn't know. But you do your job.

"I do feel when I am around a lot of times the conversation had to be tailored a little bit," Beyer notes. "Guys will say, ‘Sebrina, sorry I am saying this.' But I know the world I'm in and it's where I always wanted to be and grateful to have had the opportunity. On the road when they'd go out to dinner I stepped back and did my own thing. I've had great bosses like Sara (Salzman) teaching me to be a professional and how to treat fans and Tim; I don't think I'll ever have a boss with that sense of humor. I'll miss seeing all the new kids coming in. I told these guys that they have to call and tell me what's going on, the storms, being stuck on the bus and plane, the 5 a.m. arrivals, all the adventures. What a wonderful trip it's been."