It’s pretty much every kid’s dream, and Lani Lawrence is enjoying every minute of it.
Lawrence was a great basketball player as a kid, earned a Division 1 college scholarship, played in the pros and now is working at the highest level of professional sports.
The former Falmouth High School star, whose parents live in Mashpee, has made it all the way to the National Football League.
What? She was a basketball player, right?
It’s been a long and interesting road for the former Clipper and Northeastern University Lady Husky. Back in January she was hired by one of football’s most high-profile teams that plays in maybe the world’s most high-profile sports league to be the teams’ director of wellness and clinical services. She also is charged with heading up the team’s player engagement/development program.
“It’s all very exciting,” Lawrence said from her office on the campus of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. “I was hired back in January, and then the pandemic hit, and it’s been a whirlwind navigating all of this in a COVID world.”
Growing up, Lawrence’s number one goal was to be the best basketball player that she could be and to get a scholarship, which she did. Her play at Northeastern, where she is second all-time in rebounding, fourth in field goal percentage (.484) and second in blocked shots (129), earned her an invite to play professionally in Europe.
After graduating from Northeastern in 2002 she flew to Holland to play for a team just outside Amsterdam. While the idea of being a pro baller was glamorous, she found the lifestyle was anything but that. Offers came after her first year to continue playing. She could have signed on back in Holland or left for teams in either Germany or Spain, but she’d played pro and found it was not nearly as great as advertised.
“It wasn’t what I thought. The pay wasn’t that great, and they can cut you at any time, and I missed home. It was beautiful there, but it wasn’t really for me,” she said.
Coming back to New England, she tried coaching while also working towards her master’s degree in counseling psychology at Boston University. She put in a year at Emmanuel College as an assistant, as well as a couple of more at Southern New Hampshire University.
Even though she loved the game, Lawrence was finding more and more that her life on the hardwood was transitioning to something else.
“I realized that I didn’t want to be a coach. I hated recruiting and the long hours,” she said with a laugh.
What she loved, though, was her work in psychology and sports in general: the drive to compete, the desire to win, the process of being an athlete. All of it was wired into Lawrence’s being, and she found the best way to put it to use was by helping other athletes through her work as a counselor.
In 2012 she earned a doctorate from the University of Denver in clinical psychology with an emphasis in sport psychology and shortly after that accepted a job at the University of Southern California, where she completed her postdoctoral fellowship at USC’s Student Counseling Services and Athletic Department.
USC hired her as the school’s on-campus clinical and sports psychologist. There she was a resource for 21 Division college athletic teams. She also taught classes and continued to make a name for herself nationally with her work with athletes.
Eventually, that opened the door to the National Football League. The NFL recently agreed in its most recent collective bargaining agreement that all 32 teams must have a wellness doctor on staff at least part-time. The Giants hired Lawrence as their full-time director, and she began work just after the new year. She also considered the National Basketball Association, taking an interview with the Toronto Raptors to serve in a similar role, but being closer to home was a big factor for her after having been on the other side of the country for nearly a decade.
“New York was like coming home,” she said. “I have family in New York, and my parents are still on the Cape. When I took the job, I thought that I’d get to spend some of my summers back at home, but not so much this year.”
Lawrence is not just excited to be working for the Giants because of the status that accompanies what she has achieved. Actually, that part is not all that important to the affable psychologist. She is excited to be able to help the young men and the coaching and office staff of the Giants navigate their way through such challenging and unprecedented times in our country.
“Since I took the job, there’s been a lot that’s happened, with COVID and racial injustice, whether or not the season was going to start at all. It’s a lot to process, but I’m honored to be a part of this organization and to do my part,” she said.
Doing her part means helping the people in her care to overcome one of the most pressure-filled metro regions in the world, which has some of the most scrutinizing media coverage and fanatic fan bases. Life in the seemingly laid-back southern California prepared her for that.
“Working for a power five conference school, in a media market like LA, there’s not much that can prime you for this level, that helped,” she said. “It allowed me to practice how to teach players, coaches and administration to cancel out the noise and focus on the process of what they’re trying to accomplish. To keep out the noise around them.”
There is plenty of noise in New York, and with a young roster of players and a new coaching staff, there are plenty of people inside the Giants organization who can benefit from having Lawrence around. She takes her responsibility seriously and plans on doing everything she can to make things mentally healthy for her new team.
“I have a strong appreciation for the responsibility the players and coaches have for wanting to perform for their fans. Being a Black female in this role, and being one of the only full time females in this job, gives me an appreciation for how well I need to perform,” she said.
When the season ends, Lani said she hopes she and her new wife, Joanna, will be able to come to the Cape to visit with her family here. Her mother, Doreen, is an adjunct professor for Cape Cod Community College, and her father, Kenneth, is a retired Coast Guard officer who now does government contracting. Her sister, Monique, is married and lives in Marlboro with her husband and twins.
Until then, one of the most accomplished female basketball players to ever come out of Cape Cod will continue her role of trying to make the football team in New York the best it can be.