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On June 21, 2021, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib became the NFL’s first active player on a team roster to come out as a gay man.
Media everywhere scrambled to cover the story, with producers and reporters grapple with how to do best do so.
NFL Network Senior Coordinating Producer Lya Vallat was among those hard at work overseeing the flagship daily football news show Total Access.
What influenced solid coverage that day wasn’t just the knowledge of sports, but having someone driving the coverage who understood the deeper human dimension.
“Having someone as part of the community making decisions on how we cover it was the smartest thing we could have done in that situation,” said Vallat, a member of the Outsports Power 100. “Having people ask how it would affect me being a part of the community. That’s the admiration that I get from my colleagues and to get that ask was amazing. From there we went into full planning mode.”
Vallat understood the assignment because she’s lived it. Growing up in Bakersfield, Calif., she knew who she was at 17. She came out as a lesbian to a family that at first was not supportive but reversed field as the years progressed. “They basically said ‘We’ll send you to college, but we don’t approve of your lifestyle,’” she recalled. “It was a shock to them. It took time to overcome that.”
A lifelong sports fan, Vallat also knew she wanted her future to be. As a communications student at San Diego State University and as a ball girl with the San Diego Padres, she hustled every opportunity to talk to broadcasters and technicians on how to break into the business. Persistence paid off graduation where she started as an intern at Channel 4 in San Diego (now known as YurView California), the Padres’ main local rightsholder.
In six years, she moved from the intern with ball girl highlight reel to producing Padres telecasts and confirming that professionally, she was in the right place. “When you are in the chair producing the game or producing a show, anything live is such an adrenalin rush,” she said. “If you aren’t hooked when you get those opportunities you shouldn’t be in the business.”
Her career ascended from there, including stints and ESPN and Big Ten Network en route to starting at the NFL Network in 2015 to oversee the network’s Sunday morning pregame show. At all points of the climb, being out has been a key piece and at the same time, non-issue.
“One of my successes has been being happy and comfortable in your daily life,” Vallat notes. “Every single job I’ve taken, there has been zero backlash. I can do what I’m passionate about and be happy in who I am.”
In 2021, Vallat elevated to the network’s entertainment and initiatives group which centers around the special beyond-the-field content as a head of strategy and distribution. Much of that content centers around the league’s recent initiatives toward greater community involvement.
She’s also the heads of the league’s LGBTQ employee recent group in Los Angeles, and her leadership and outlook doesn’t only influence media coverage but are gaining the ears of many on key issues outside of contests, but greatly affecting the teams and the cities they play in.
“As a head of our Pride ERG, we want to make sure that the league leans on us as a resource and that have recently which is great,” she noted. “Now the NFL before making the Super Bowl decision or the big-temple events, they are leaning on us in regard to how we can affect the community in a positive way.”
Away from the bustle of broadcasting, Vallat is a happy wife, married in 2018, and mother to a baby girl. She says family is also what spurs her own to speak out outside and inside the workplace, noting the current climate of LGBTQ legislation.
Such also drives her to make her workplace a safe space like those she’s thrived in throughout a successful career.
“You should never work for a company or an organization that would make you feel than less than a half of percent of who you feel you are,” she said when asked how she was counsel an employee who had just come out. “You need to be true to yourself.”