Michelle Dunham: “Make a plan and do it”

Michelle Dunham, of American Express, talks about pro football, law careers and the importance of getting a fair shot

In my recent conversation with Michelle Dunham from American Express, we delved into her inspiring journey from professional football player to a career in law. She shared valuable insights on achieving your goals and making them a reality.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Michelle. You have such an interesting resume. Can you tell me about your career? How did you end up in the gaming space?

Michelle: Thank you.  I started my career as an attorney in Chicago, and I have to say it has been a true growth journey since the beginning.

I’ve held several senior leadership roles, including Director of Legal Affairs and General Counsel, within publicly traded companies.  As a football player, I serve as a skilled player, holding down positions as a wide receiver and corner.

My passion for the practice of law and experience within the C-Suite have offered me many opportunities to voice my opinion about inequalities and biases against women within corporate America, and the activities that I do outside of corporate America have allowed me the opportunity to be of service to young female athletes.  

I ended up in the gaming space back in 2017 when the President and former General Counsel of the Business Unit tapped me to head the online gaming and sports betting initiative. 

The business unit that I support is FINTECH, so we are at the forefront of the tech vertical in online gaming and sports betting.  Once I started the project, I fell in love with the technological aspect of the gaming vertical. 

Everything just fell in line; my love for the law and sports just aligned.

I read that you also played football. Is there anything that you took from that experience that helps you today? What are the most important lessons you learned while playing football? 

Michelle: Well, I still play football; this will be my last season playing competitively within a professional women’s tackle league.

Growing up in Alabama, football was always a sport that I played; however, I started playing organized football about 13 years ago.

I started with flag football (co-ed and female contact), and now I play tackle.  The one thing that has helped me tremendously through sports (not just football) is the concept of being a “team player.” 

For me, playing football gives me an opportunity to experience leadership as well as followership within a team setting in a different way. 

From a regulatory point of view, what are the biggest opportunities you see today in sports betting in the US? 

Michelle: As sports betting services are the most common channel for placing bets, pushing legalization in new states is critical from a growth perspective, and making sure that there are regulatory controls that match the type of services being offered to operators is where the opportunity lies.

Making sure we are addressing “the gray areas” in a timely fashion.  My company provides a SaaS product that is used by operators and applications.  The regulations around this industry are very antiquated and do not generally support the type of services that are provided by companies providing non-gaming related services such as the type that my company offers.

One of the things that sparked my interest initially was that I knew breaking into this vertical would be a challenging and fun opportunity.

You are committed to improving conditions for women, not just in gaming and sports but in the professional world generally. What tips do you have for women who want to follow your career path and become Legal Counsel? 

Michelle: Be proactive in making what you want to do in life real; actualize your aspirations; and don’t be discouraged by setbacks. 

My path is not a traditional legal path; I love the practice of law and I also love sports and my passion in sports is playing football.  I had to sit down and assess where my focus was at that time and develop a plan to make my passions flow in parallel.

My podcast offers young ladies the opportunity to vocalize their goals and partner with professionals who will work with them on the planning and execution. 

I also provide “Educational Sessions” at all of my camps, where I bring in professionals in a variety of  industries to speak with the young ladies in attendance on ways to incorporate your love for sports into a career path.

My advice to all of the young ladies that I speak to about their aspirations is “take time to identify that person that is doing what you want” “make a plan” and “Do It.” 

What do women want in sports and sports betting?

Michelle: Women want to be respected as professionals within both verticals. 

We want equitable treatment, vision, and a fair shot.  Equitable pay, comparable facilities and opportunities that allow us to be seen as knowledgeable and competitive in this space as athletes, professionals, and predicting sports results and placing a wager on the outcome.

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