Sarah Mensah went to her first Trail Blazers game in 1976 with her father, an original season ticketholder. Now she’s the team’s COO, and one of the highest-ranking women in pro sports.
BY ROBIN DOUSSARD
Trail Blazers COO Sarah Mensah and her son, Davis, outside the Rose Garden in Portland.
Sarah Mensah went to her first Trail Blazers game in 1976 with her father, an original season ticketholder. Now she’s the team’s COO, and one of the highest-ranking women in pro sports. The Sports Business Journal named her one of its Women in Sports Business Game Changers. Mensah, 47, grew up in Beaverton and attended the University of Oregon and has worked for the Blazers for 18 years. When Davis, her 12-year-old son, was diagnosed with autism disorder, it began Mensah’s journey to champion education opportunities for children of all abilities. She is a Portland Schools Foundation board member, helped create the Cradle to Career Partnership initiative, and sits on the Northwest Autism Foundation board.
THE HARD PART
“Learning to live with the ups and downs. With winning and losing, it’s hard not to get caught up in the emotion of that. But that comes with being a basketball team. Several years ago [during the team’s “Jail Blazers” days] we lost our way. We pursued winning at all costs, without regard to the types of players on our roster. We are constantly challenged with making sure we stay true to our values.”
“This is going to sound crazy, but I sit on a lot of boards. To keep sane, I find something completely opposite to do other than my day job. It has brought me a great deal of peace. When my son was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with autism disorder. I am fortunate to have a terrific job with a lot of resources. But I was so moved by other parents who didn’t have the same opportunity. I have a very strong focus on righting that.”
“I’m intense, passionate. But I think they would also say that I’ve allowed them to have a good balance in their life. I believe with as hard as we work and with the long hours, people need the freedom to handle a lot of their personal issues… I’m grounded a lot by my family. I have a son who is the light of my life. I have a strong family and a great foundation of commitment.”
“There is no way I could do what I do if I didn’t have an absolute army of amazing friends, neighbors; my father has been a godsend. My advice: Create community for yourself. Help can come in all kinds of forms. It is easy to get isolated. Portland is an amazing place; it’s the type of place you want to raise a kid. I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of goodness here.”
BEFORE I’M DONE
I’m getting contacted by a lot of women who are interested in a sports career. I’m spending a lot of time talking to them about how I did this. In my wildest dreams I didn’t imagine I could do this and I’m happy being that example to women in sports. There aren’t many women in sports management and I’m proud that I could be part of proving that is possible. I can’t wait to see the first woman coach.”