It’s hard not to be impressed by Bonnie-Jill Laflin, the first ever and only female NBA scout—for the Los Angeles Lakers—and former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Indeed, the 37-year-old’s professional endeavors run the gamut (though every gig does somehow tend to involve a ball). From sports broadcaster to assistant general manager of a minor league basketball team, from hosting a show on ESPN to hosting a show on the NFL Network, this Marina del Rey-based brainy babe—who’s also a model and actress—has no shortage of sports savvy.
Add to that list the “Maxim Hot 100” girl’s penchant for stationary bicycling. Though not technically a sport, it’s an athletic activity and one Laflin is gearing up to engage in tomorrow, March 8, at Flywheel West Hollywood on behalf of national farm animal protection organization Farm Sanctuary.
In preparation for running the Boston Marathon, Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder Gene Baur intends to train while raising critical funds for farm animals in need (AKA all farm animals). Being the animal lover that she is, Laflin—a longtime vegetarian who doesn’t drink milk or eat cheese—couldn’t help but be on board and sign up for a bike.
In fact, the Real Food Daily and Veggie Grill fan—who, when asked what her favorite food is, exclaimed “Tofu, anything tofu!”—grew up around rescues. “My family has always been very involved in rescue,” explains Laflin, referring to the ranch she was raised on outside of San Francisco, which rather than making meat from sentient beings instead saved—and continues to save!—them.
No stranger to the philanthropic lifestyle, Laflin possesses an altruistic spirit with a deep admiration for and support of U.S. troops. Partnering this patriotism with her unwavering commitment to animal welfare, she founded Hounds & Heroes, which she describes in greater detail during our interview below.
Laflin also shares what it’s like being the sole (or rare) flesh-rejecter among her industry comrades, what it’s like—for the uninitiated—visiting one of Farm Sanctuary’s serene locations, and what she enjoys eating when she’s not otherwise occupied courtside.
Ecorazzi: First off, when did you become vegetarian and how did being raised on your parents’ animal rescue ranch influence that decision?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: Well, like my mom, I’ve never eaten beef or pork, but I stopped eating chicken and turkey about 15 years ago. Even at a very young age, the animals I grew up with were my friends. The idea of eating them offended me. It was similar to how you’d probably feel if you had to eat your dog. I didn’t understand how you could eat another mammal!
Ecorazzi: You said it, girl. For years now you’ve been an active supporter of Farm Sanctuary. For folks who’ve never experienced their resplendent havens—for both animals and people—what’s it like to visit one of their shelters?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: I’ve been to both the East and West Coast sanctuaries. They provide an incredibly loving environment. People get to know these animals and see that they really do have personalities—the turkeys, for example, are more animated than a lot of people I know! The animals just want to connect. I think people start to see these animals are just like dogs and cats.
Ecorazzi: Let’s hope so! All are equally worthy of affection and protection, that’s for sure. Anyway, regarding your ride this Saturday, what will you be fueling up with beforehand?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: A big breakfast! I’ll have granola with yogurt and fruit, along with an English muffin and orange juice.
Ecorazzi: And afterwards?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: A SunWarrior vegan protein shake.
Ecorazzi: As the only female scout for the NBA, you’re around a lot of testosterone and performance-driven athletes. Do you ever try to convince them to try a plant-powered diet?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: I am always happy to suggest that athletes try a healthier diet, and work with them if asked. Now, whether or not they stick with it is another story altogether! But, I’ve had many success stories converting people to become vegetarians. Not just athletes. Once you show someone videos of what happens in factory farming and the torture these animals endure, most people want to change.
Ecorazzi: I can certainly appreciate your optimistic outlook. So, what’s it like being the only vegetarian on the Lakers plane? Do you find it difficult to maintain your diet on the road?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: It’s fairly easy. There are always so many healthy alternatives provided for athletes—lots of fruits and vegetables, for example.
So, what are some of your favorite mock meats or other analog products?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: I love Morning Star. All of their products are so yummy! I drink Almond Breeze brand almond milk. So Delicious Dairy Free’s Purely Decadent is the best vegan ice cream. It’s delicious! And Trader Joe’s has a great vegan yogurt, too.
Ecorazzi: Never had the latter. I’ll look for it. So, you’re as well known for your animal activism as for your sports acumen, and have even founded your own charity, Hounds & Heroes. Can you tell me more about that?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: My passion for animal welfare and military support made it imperative for me to create an organization dedicated to supporting both of these causes. Through Hounds & Heroes, we promote compassion for all animals and help the heroes—who have given so much for our own freedom—at the same time.
Ecorazzi: That sounds fantastic. Can you please elaborate?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: We help and partner with many charities, as well as educate the public on animal welfare issues and supporting the military. One of our main initiatives is rescuing dogs from shelters, training them as service or therapy dogs, then adopting them out to wounded warriors recovering from the war.
Ecorazzi: What a laudable endeavor! That is awesome. Do you personally have any rescue pets?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: Diamond, a rescued Chihuahua/Boston Terrier mix that was on the streets of LA. Wilt Chamberlain, a rescued Pug/French Bulldog mix that was on death row at the shelter, ready to be euthanized. Asur, a German Shepherd, a retired MWD bomb-sniffing dog that became blind after his deployment in Afghanistan. (I adopted him from the K-9 Unit at Camp Pendleton.) My orange tabby, Johnny Cash, who was in a dumpster with his brother and sisters. I jumped in and rescued all of them! Even the menagerie on my folks’ farm—including horses, cows, goats, pigs and chickens—have all been rescued from dire situations and imminent death!
Ecorazzi: Bravo. I love it. Wish I’d grown up on or near a fairytale location like that. Can you share a specific rescue story?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: One of our goats, Sweet Caroline, had been abused and was about to be slaughtered, but my mom rescued her and three other goats. Sweet Caroline was at first apprehensive of people, but now, with lots of love, she lives happily on the ranch and comes by her name when we call her. She loves wearing sweaters during the winter and laying in the sun right next to her best friend, one of the rescued dogs.
Ecorazzi: That is a seriously sweet story. Who could eat a goat?! They’re the cutest. Anyhow, are there any misconceptions about vegetarians that drive you particularly nuts?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: Some people have an image of vegetarians as undernourished, imagining we’re all throwbacks to the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s. They can’t believe vegetarians look healthier than meat eaters!
Ecorazzi: How about misconceptions surrounding female sportscasters?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: That we get the job by being cute and reading whatever is handed to us instead of acknowledging that we know what we’re talking about, train and study hard, and work even harder!
Ecorazzi: Preach! Did you notice any cosmetic, mental or physical improvements after eschewing meat?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: Yes. I have more energy and my hair and skin are both healthier and look great. It’s amazing how much better you feel inside and out.
Ecorazzi: Couldn’t agree more. Lastly, are there any films or books or other resources you recommend for people interested in learning more about vegetarianism?
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: “Skinny Bitch” by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. One of my favorites!
Ecorazzi: Funnily enough, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, the reason I ditched dairy and eggs after being vegetarian for six years. Anyway, thanks for taking the time, Bonnie-Jill! Thanks for reppin’ women and veg-heads on a visible scale! Best of luck with the spin class tomorrow afternoon! Wish I were in LA to participate.
Bonnie-Jill Laflin: Thank you, too!