To call Bonnie-Jill Laflin a Renaissance Woman would be an understatement. When you take a look at her career, you’re forced to confront some preconceived notions you may or may not have about female roles in certain professions. Her career progression is one that most certainly has been fueled by passion, dedication and an incredible work ethic. To name a few she has been a professional cheerleader for both the NBA and NFL, a model, an actress, a sports broadcaster, and the NBA’s first female scout, as well as assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Lakers’ Development Team. Bonnie-Jill smashes glass ceilings.
What makes her all the more impressive is her compassion and love for all creatures. Bonnie-Jill is an outspoken animal rights activist and spokesperson for PETA. In fact she even postponed our interview by an hour so that she could stop on on the way to rescue a dog. She is bold, strong and determined.
What is your favorite TV show?
Bonnie-Jill: My favorite TV show would have to be Mr. Ed from back in the day. The black and white one with the horse. More recently, I guess I would probably say American Horror Story because I kind of like these thriller horror TV shows.
What music are you listening to these days?
Bonnie-Jill:When it comes to music, I like all genres but mostly country music, old country.
Favorite cardio exercise?
Bonnie-Jill: As an ambassador for Orange Theory Fitness Santa Monica you can see me there at least four times a week. It’s the best circuit training there is! Also, everyone who knows me knows I love to box.
It’s Friday night. Dress up and go out or order in and cuddle up?
Bonnie-Jill: On Friday night, mostly I’ll be cuddling up watching sports center with my dogs and cats.
If you could be any animal in the world, what animal would you be and why?
Bonnie-Jill: I’d probably be a horse. I feel like I am really spiritually connected to horses and grew up on a horse ranch and save a lot of horses and being able to just run on the open range, they’re…majestic.
Favorite Disney princess?
Bonnie-Jill: So my favorite Disney princess would be Ariel. I’m obsessed with mermaids. I think I am a mermaid.
If you could try out any other career what would it be?
Bonnie-Jill: It’d probably be working with animals. I’d probably be some type of animal conservationist or veterinarian in Africa. Something with animals for sure.
What would your best friend say is your worst quality?
Bonnie-Jill: Well, probably that I am very impatient. I like things like right away. If you get in a car with me, it’s very scary. [laughs] I’m impatient, and I’m moody. [laughs]
What would your best friend say your best quality is?
Bonnie-Jill: That I have a really big heart when it comes to saving animals and helping our military. I’ve gone overseas to several countries and participated in helping with children. That’s the biggest thing, is my passion for helping others.
Define success for you.
Bonnie-Jill: To me, success isn’t necessarily being the richest person in the world. Success is being able to be valued in your career and being credible and someone that people can look up to as a role model.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are?
Bonnie-Jill: My biggest inspiration would probably be my father. He really supports me in everything I do. Every weekend, I was with my dad, a total daddy’s girl. That’s why I started in sports because he was a season ticket holder for all of the different teams and I just knew it was something that I wanted to make a part of my life. He always said that I could do whatever I put my mind to and to not just dream it but be it. And that’s what I did.
Your father being a cop, did that instill in you a level of discipline that you might not have otherwise had?
Bonnie-Jill: Yes. Definitely, I came from a very disciplined family. A catholic, cop and the rest of my family was military. I had a curfew when no one else did. I didn’t have a boyfriend when everyone else did. So that type of thing. I was able to use that in my career as well as being disciplined and having a good work ethic.
You support the military in a big way. What is the driving force behind that?
Bonnie-Jill: I have been a big military advocate for so long. I have an uncle who was a Vietnam vet, career marine, gunnery sergeant and my two grandfathers, one was a silver star recipient and purple heart recipient. They both served in World War II, and then many of my friends were in the military or law enforcement.
So always very passionate about that and always wanted to be able to give back as much as I could. I remember around 13 to 14 years old, my uncle told me a story about when he was in Vietman and Elizabeth Taylor came to visit them and how it just changed the whole vibe and interrupted the monotony of their days and really just boosted morale.
I knew at one point in my life I would love to be able to go and visit our troops and give thanks and gratitude. I was honored enough to be able to do that as my first tour with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and then continued to do those tours on my own.
What inspired you to get so involved in animal welfare?
Bonnie-Jill: Getting involved in animal welfare started at a young age. My mom was always rescuing animals when, at that time it was called the Pound. My parents were doing that way back when. I always had a strong connection with animals, even more than people I would say. It’s almost like that sixth sense with them and I always knew that I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless and to continue to try to help make a difference in the animal welfare movement.
I go to Capitol Hill about three or four times a year to try and push for animal rights. I continue to try to get dogs adopted, rescuing horses, stopping, people from wearing fur, encouraging people to go vegan. I can go on and on and on. I want to make a difference.
You have participated in promotional efforts for PETA, what is that to you? Why is it so important?
Bonnie-Jill: Yes, I’ve been a PETA ambassador for decades now. I’ve done six different campaigns. My most recent one is to encourage people to go vegan. And that you can be healthy and have an athletic lifestyle and still be vegan. That is something that I am very passionate about.
How many animals have you rescued or do you currently have?
Bonnie-Jill: I have rescued a lot of animals. We have 13 dogs, 26 horses, four goats, two pigs, one turkey, five chickens, five cats. I think I’m missing someone there. And so many more from pushing them out to social media and helping them get fostered and so forth. It’s a lot of lives.
You have your own charity. What’s it about and how can people get involved?
Bonnie-Jill: I started my charity in 2011. We’re a nonprofit called Hounds and Heroes. I wanted to be able to combine my two passions. Which is the military and animals. One of our main focuses is rescuing dogs from the shelter and then pairing them up with wounded warriors who are suffering from PTSD, TBI you name it, as service and therapy dogs.
We also send care packages during holiday drives. We started equine therapy in Texas with horses that we rescue. The Warriors can come out on the weekends and ride horses, and that’s very therapeutic as well. You can learn all about it at houndsandheroes.com
When did you catch the Sports bug?
Bonnie-Jill: Since a young age, I’ve always wanted to do something in sports and not just end up being that female who just wants to get married and have kids. I’ve always thought big and my end goal is to own my own team. Whether it’s football, basketball or baseball. That’s what I always wanted to achieve and being able to work as an executive in the Los Angeles Lakers office, a team that had so many, championships, is a dynasty and this team that everyone just looks up to, was just great.
It was an honor to be able to work with the Lakers and learning that I could scout. Then I ran the defenders which is the Lakers’ D League team as assistant GM. I was able to see both on and off the court and just keep getting better and let a lot of people guide me. Jerry West was a mentor. He guided me through and took me under his wing. Kurt Rambis, Bryan Shaw, there were so many that were really great in helping me achieve this and to keep pressing on.
You have been mentored by some of the greats in the sports world. Who are some of those people?
Bonnie-Jill: The first person to really inspire me would be Jerry Jones who is the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. And then from there, it would be Jerry Buss [owner of the Lakers] who ended up being like a second father to me. He really just was so outside the box when it came to thinking of ways to change the sports industry. He was a guy who was like, “oh, we don’t want to have just Laker Girls, but also want to have the USC Marching Band perform at our games.” He always was thinking differently. Not just about what was taking place on the court but off as well.
He was very much a visionary and he was very great at telling me: don’t believe that because you’re a female that you won’t be able to break through these glass barriers and be able to achieve what you want. He saw the knowledge I had in basketball and made me the first and only female scout in the NBA. He really believed in me.
When things got tough, he always said “You’ve gotta have thick skin if you’re going to be in this industry” and to keep pushing forward and eventually you’ll get through that and it will all be worth it. And he was definitely right.
What do you see in the future for your career in sports?
Bonnie-Jill: I am a segment reporter now for Fox Sports, NBA China and NBA insider for BBC Sports as well as hosting my new show on Afterbuzz TV, Bonnie-Jill Laflin Weekly Pass Show. But eventually, I’d like to get back into a front office. I would like to own a team. Even if it’s a small, small percent but still something [laughs].
What would team would you love to own?
Bonnie-Jill: If even the minority stake, it’d be the Dallas Cowboys. Who doesn’t want in on America’s team? Jerry Jones is such an inspiring businessman and he knows how to make things happen. It would be nice to be able to listen to him and get advice from him as well.
What would you say your favorite career moment is to date?
Bonnie-Jill: I would have to say when I was 18 years old, cheering for the 49ers at the Superbowl and being on the field. We destroyed the San Diego Chargers [laughs]. Seeing Jerry Rice and Steve Young embracing and just being a part of that. Also being in the locker room when the Lakers won their championship against the Celtics was amazing. I was a part of that team. I was a scout. That was all pretty surreal.
Do you have a most embarrassing career moment?
Bonnie-Jill: I have a couple of funny stories when I was a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. The girls would wear these boob pads to make their breasts look enhanced. As I was cheering, mine fell out [chuckles]. We were in Mexico City and Charles Haley, a Hall of Famer, is on the side lines screaming, “Your boob fell out. Your boob fell out.” And he keeps screaming it. I was obviously very embarrassed, but I was like a little ninja and I grabbed it and put it back in and continued on.
What sort of injustices do you face working in a male dominated industry?
Bonnie-Jill: The biggest misconception is that people think that if you are an attractive female working in sports or business or anywhere, that you’re not smart, you’re not educated, you’re not credible and that you sleep around. Whatever it may be and I’ve had that placed on me before, saying, “Oh she’s a cheerleader, she is whatever.” That doesn’t define who you are. When I got into scouting and being the first female, there were stereotypes placed on me. People looked at me under a microscope because of where I came from, what I had done in my career previously and I think that’s really a shame that people put that on someone because of the way they look.
What advise would you go back and give to your younger self?
Bonnie-Jill: I think if I was to look back and speak to my 16 year old self I would say, “There are going to be tough times but everything’s going to be okay.” When you’re first getting into a career it’s not always as easy as people think or as glamorous as people think. All of us have big expectations and I think that’s the key is to manage your expectations. Not just in your career but personally as well.
Anything else that you want to go on record about?
Bonnie-Jill: I will be hosting a new show on Animal Planet about animal rescues and shelters and I also have a new book that will be coming out in 2018 and it’s trying to encourage rescue. So all my dogs are actually characters in the book and they’re animated. And they tell us their own little story to let kids and their parents know of the best way to adopt and how to make sure that you have an animal for life. I’ll be going to all the different schools and reading these books and bringing my dogs along and hopefully that encourages more adoptions.
For more from Bonnie-Jill Laflin follow her @bonniejill