Lawyer-turned-surfer-turned PA shares her journey to ESPN

“It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.”George Lorimer, American editor and writer 1867-1937

These days, Danielle DeSousa works as a production assistant on ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. campus.

DeSousa was a lawyer for 10 years in Florida before becoming a production assistant.

She’s learning to monitor telecasts, edit features, write scripts and help with the production of ESPN’s Outside The Lines.

DeSousa doesn’t seem remarkably different from the hundreds of other PAs, except that her journey to this entry-level position in the television industry is remarkable.

She’s 39 years old and just two years removed from a thriving, 10-year career as a lawyer in Tampa, Fla., primarily working as a prosecutor, civil litigator and later a corporate attorney.

But before she even thought of coming to ESPN, DeSousa questioned her passion for legal career and made a very difficult decision: She turned down an offer of a promotion.

“All I could think to myself was ‘I’m stuck in this miserable profession for another 10, 20, 30 years if I take it,'” said DeSousa.

“All I ever thought about when I was young was becoming a lawyer and going to law school. It was great in the beginning. I was a prosecutor out of law school for four years and I loved the trial work. I prosecuted anything from DUIs to drug cases to sex crimes to murders.”

In October 2009, DeSousa not only left her firm — a Fortune 250 company, she says — but she quit law, packed her bags and left Florida.

DeSousa travelled, visiting friends around the country.

She surfed in Costa Rica during the summer of 2010, when some friends — SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy and his wife Ani — helped turned her life in an unexpected direction.

DeSousa and her law school roommate, Ani Levy, wife of SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy.

“Danielle is my wife’s law school roommate, and she has always been a sports nut, which is kind of funny because my wife doesn’t care about sports at all,” Levy said.

Levy recommended DeSousa consider applying to become an ESPN production assistant.

“I told Danielle ‘look, you’ll probably have to take a massive pay cut, move someplace cold, work weekends and overnights. She was like ‘Where do I sign up?’ in essence.”

After getting the green light, Levy contacted ESPN coordinating producer Missy Motha.

“They took it from there,” Levy said.

“While Dani has thanked me on more than one occasion, Missy has also thanked me for bringing her such a solid candidate.”

In December 2010, DeSousa packed once again and moved from sunny Florida to cold Bristol, where she rediscovered her passion for sports.

She gave up a significant chunk of her salary to start from the very bottom on a field she had no experience in at a major sports network, but that didn’t phase her one bit.

“I downgraded my living space, my vehicle, but I upgraded my peace of mind,” DeSousa said.

“I wake up every day and I am happy.”

The transition wasn’t easy.

Levy describes it as “being a 30-year-old rookie that excels in the league despite never having played pro sports before.”

Danielle wouldn’t have been so eager to make the move without the support of her dad Everson DeSousa.

Everson had told his daughter to follow her passion for sports when she was a teenager, but she chose to try to make a lot of money as a lawyer instead.

Twenty years later, when his daughter needed him the most, Everson didn’t need to say “I told you so.”

Instead, he supported her move 100 percent.

DeSousa is making headlines at ESPN. Levy sees a very bright future for her.

“She could combine her legal background with sports. We have 3 or 4 legal analysts on the air all the time,” he said.

“There are a lot of opportunities when sports and law come together, and I think that makes Dani a tremendous asset here at ESPN.”

However, DeSousa isn’t thinking that far ahead just yet. She is just riding the wave and working on multiple projects with Outside the Lines hoping to become a field producer someday.

Her potential is, once again, limitless.

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