Sports publicist LaTonya Story, owner and president of LPS Consulting PR LLC, has amassed a successful 20-year career in the industry and represents stars like Michael Vick and ESPN’s Maria Taylor.
But the 47-year-old is not without personal struggles. Her first-born son, Sterling, passed away almost 10 months ago, leaving Story with the parental guilt of not recognizing the warning signs when he first fell ill. A huge fan of NBA legend Allen Iverson, Sterling would have turned 31 on September 1.
Today would have been our son's 31st birthday. He died 9 months ago from Malignant Lymphoma, a form of Cancer, that was misdiagnosed. In his memory, my focus will be prevention, health education & patient advocacy/rights for young adult men and women. This is our Cancer story: pic.twitter.com/MnMLj8Vgrz
— LaTonya Story (@LaTonyaStory) September 1, 2020
Story spoke with Yahoo Sports about the power of sports in moments of bereavement and how she went from a teen mother to the owner of her own boutique marketing agency.
Yahoo Sports: Describe how you came into the field of being a brand strategist and the method you used to secure your clients.
LaTonya Story: My first big break in sports was handling public relations for the Allen Iverson Celebrity Summer Classic in Hampton, VA in 2000. From that experience, I decided I wanted to be a publicist. I started my firm in my second year volunteering the Summer Classic. Shortly after, I was introduced to Aaron Brooks, who was the starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints at the time and my current client Michael Vick’s cousin. After a quick conversation, he became my first client.
With Maria (Taylor), I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. We were both in the boarding line at LAX heading back to Atlanta from the ESPY Awards. I asked if she had a publicist. To my surprise, she said “no.” I gave her my business card and suggested we set up a meeting in Atlanta when we both return. She called me the following week, we met up and she signed on as a client in September 2019.
YS: What are the difficulties you faced in the early stages of your career? Any words of wisdom for Black women in the same position looking to get their start in the sports agent industry?
LS: It might be cliche, but don’t give up. My mother was addicted to drugs throughout my childhood and ultimately died in prison. I gave birth to my first child at the age of 16 and by 22 I had three kids. There were several times I could have given up. But, I always believed there was a planned purpose in my life. I knew I was tenacious enough to bet on myself. Always remember that closed mouths don’t get fed.
YS: You’re also a vocal advocate for cancer awareness, having lost your son to malignant lymphoma last December. What are some of the lessons you learned about anticipating the warning signs and how can you translate that into advocacy for other families?
LS: In high school, you would never believe I would be a teen mom. I was a captain of the cheer squad, drama student, student class president and homecoming queen. What many people didn’t know about me is that I grew up in based housing. My mother’s addiction caused her to sell all of our furniture to buy more drugs. All I wanted was to be an incredible mother to Sterling, someone with a child who could love their mother back.
Sterling had gone to the doctors, emergency room a couple of times last year and was diagnosed with Sciatica, but the doctors told him it was not terminal. He did not have the language to ask the doctors to test him for something else. Two days before Christmas 2019, his father found him in his room unconscious in a pool of blood.
It wasn’t until we received the autopsy report several months after his funeral did we learn the cause of death a rare form of malignant lymphoma cancer. It’s preventable if you catch it early. But, we were robbed of making decisions for any kind of treatment. I’m still learning how to mourn, figuring out what language to use when I communicate with others. Nine months later, I’m not on the other side of grief.
YS: Your late son was the biggest Allen Iverson fan. Talk about how sports has the powerful ability to help heal in even the toughest of times.
LS: Sterling’s homegoing service was January 3 and a month later I was scheduled to host a sports power brunch at the Super Bowl. I was faced with the decision to continue with the event or pull out. Through the grace of God and my support system, I decided to move forward with my brunch because I know Sterling wouldn’t want me to come this far just to give up. My clients, no matter how busy they are, continuously check up on me. Through shared experiences and struggles, Black individuals have a unique and special bond. We’re not always related by blood, but we feel akin to each other because of cultural similarities.
I’m also an official partner with the American Cancer Society because I don’t want another family to endure this tragedy. My prayer is that my son’s story will help encourage someone else to take their health seriously.
Pass Her the Mic is a series by Yahoo Sports that profiles Black women at the intersection of sports and race, discussing various topics ranging from racial injustice to athlete activism.