Montclair Magazine Holiday 2021 - Page 24

“ Our ownership is really into growing just better men altogether , not just a better football player ,” Lynn , a resident of Bloomfield , says . “ They want someone who is wellbalanced , on and off the field . So , they really let me do whatever Iwant to do .”
And in doing what she does , Lynn is living her dream .
Lynn , 38 , was named the Director of Player Engagement for the New York Giants this spring — the first woman to ever serve in the position . In this role , Lynn serves as alifeline for the dozens of players who cycle through the organization , helping them navigate life in the NFL and beyond .
The person in charge of player engagement for an NFL team works closely with players . For Lynn , that means having an open-door policy : Whenever a New York Giant needs her , she is there . If she doesn ’ t have an answer right away , she ’ ll do what she can to work her resources to find that answer .
That could mean bringing in experts to help a player develop a business plan for a career after football , or financial planners to help athletes better manage their earnings . It could simply mean talking through personal issues and listening to what matters to them outside football — like social justice , their families , furthering their education , or giving back to the community .
“ I like tosee it as , I ’ mthe aunt to probably 65 guys ,” Lynn says with a laugh .
Lynn ’ s path to the Giants has had its share of twists and turns .
She hails from Pasadena , California , and grew up in a “ football family .” Her father , Johnnie Lynn , played in the NFL . When she was in eighth grade , he signed with the Jets , and Lynn ’ s family relocated to Wayne , where they remained . After eight years in the league , Lynn ’ s father decided to go into coaching full-time . His career even included a stint with the Giants .
While at Wayne Hills High School ,
Lynn became a babysitter , and often watched after NFL players ’ children . It was when she was asenior inhigh school , babysitting for former Giant fullback Charles Way , that she got her first taste of player engagement . Way , who Lynn describes as “ one of the best fullbacks we ’ ve had at the Giants ,” was injured and subsequently moved into a player engagement role with the team .
“ They just built this new role ” for him , Lynn says . “ So , as asenior in high school , I asked him , ' Would Ibeable to intern for you for the summer ?' And eventually he let me do that .”
Lynn went on to Hampton University in Virginia , where she majored in communications studies with an emphasis on public relations . At first , she envisioned breaking into the music or entertainment industry . But after interning for MTV , she quickly realized she wasn ’ t fulfilled . “ It really was just alot of pushing papers around ,” Lynn says of the gig . “ I wasn ’ t making any type of impact . I wasn ’ t helping anyone . And I feel that Ikind of have that servant in me , that servant role that wants to help other people be great .”
After graduation , Lynn went on to Canisius College in Buffalo , where she received her master ’ s degree in sports administration in 2007 . That same year , she was named aplayer engagement coordinator with the New York Giants . She has been working her way up the ranks since , while settling back in the Garden State . “ I came back because I love it here ,” Lynn says . “ It ’ s a great state to raise kids .”
Throughout her 14 years with the Giants , Lynn has worked with countless players .
Usually , the director of player engagement role is a position reserved for former NFL players — the idea being that an ex-player could best relate to a current player . For Lynn , the qualities that make her stand out as an individual — her ability to listen and empathize — happen to be what make her good at her job .
At first , Lynn thought being a woman would make it harder for the players to relate — but she was wrong . “ I think probably the biggest obstacle was myself . I didn ’ t think that they would relate to me ,” Lynn says . “ I never played adown in the NFL , but , really , that ’ s my strength when it comes to the locker room — just because everyone else around them is doing football things , and I kind of give them that balance on the other side .”
Players who have worked with Lynn remember their experiences with her fondly . Giants legend and North Jersey native Victor Cruz , who now works in production with the Giants and is a community ambassador for the team , worked with her when he was aplayer , and is now a colleague .
“ Ashley is great because not only does she understand players and where they come from , she can empathize and reach a common ground with us that most couldn ’ t do organically ,” Cruz says . “ Although she felt like ‘ one of us ,’ we still respected her as an authoritative figure and knew that her direction would always lead us in the right direction .”
Russell Shepard , who retired in 2020 after a seven-year career in