Growing up as an athlete, I had my eyes set on the big leagues. I can remember playing in the backyard with my friends and imagining we were playing in the Super Bowl and then scoring that touchdown on the last play of the game as the crowd goes wild! Most kids I knew had the same hopes and dreams of one day “going pro.” (Or going to the Olympics, depending on the sport.) But did you know that just over 7% of high school athletes go on to play a varsity sport in college? Or that fewer than 2% of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes?
Shocking, right? I knew competition was fierce, but this is a reality check.
That’s probably why we had such an amazing turnout at the HBCU Legacy Bowl Career Fair in New Orleans earlier this month. Hundreds of seniors from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including the athletes playing in the HBCU Legacy Bowl, wanted to understand their career options. I had a great time interacting with the students along with my Zebra colleagues as we hosted a booth and discussed career opportunities.
What I think they were happy to learn was that their athletic careers aren’t necessarily over just because they don’t secure a contract to play with a professional team. They can still have a career in sports off the field – or possibly on the field too in a different capacity.
Did you know my first job in the NFL was at age 16 when I was hired by the Cleveland Browns groundcrew? This position then led to a promotion into the front office when I was in college and a full-time role upon graduation. Later, within my professional journey, I became a certified NFL Players Association (NFLPA) contract advisor/sports agent working with football and Olympic athletes. So, it just goes to show you don’t have to be a college athlete to make it to the big leagues, and if you are a college athlete, your sports career doesn’t have to end at graduation.
Why It’s Important to Be Bold, No Matter Your “Pro” Ambitions
I have been in sports and technology for over 15 years now, and I’ve been working on the NFL’s Next Gen Stats initiative (from the Zebra side) for the last seven years. There are so many incredibly exciting jobs in the world of sports, and I wanted to make sure the students at the HBCU Legacy Bowl Career Fair knew that.
So, I was honored to join a panel of sports industry executives to kick off the career fair and showcase the different sports career opportunities that exist today. What did we talk about with the students in attendance (that could be helpful to you too)?
How to maximize the opportunities earned to learn about career opportunities and start to build connections. This includes internships, summer jobs in sports, or any interaction with professionals within the world of sports and entertainment.
The importance of networking, being bold and taking charge of your career path – from getting involved in your community and volunteering at a sports/charity foundation event to being a “pro” of your field. That means putting in the work to be competent and a master of your craft and passion: read everything you can, listen to podcasts, pick up the phone and interview those in the field, seek out a mentor, and separate yourself from the pack. Just like the greatest athletes in the world put in the work and effort outside of practice, you need to do the same within the business of sports.
How much character matters. “One today is worth two tomorrows,” as Benjamin Franklin said. In the age of social media, indiscretions live forever and it’s important that you think through what you post. Working in sports is competitive and it’s easy for an employer to pass you over if your social media posts are not in line with the mission and culture of the business.
All in all, I think the students in attendance walked away with even bigger hopes and dreams of going “pro” in the wide world of sports – and a game plan for turning those opportunities into career wins. I hope you will too.
If you are still strategizing your next move, or just want to conduct some research to see what the day-to-day looks like in certain sports (or technology) career roles, check out some of the insights below from Zebra’s past NFL externs:
You can also reach out to Zebra’s Talent Acquisition team to learn about our current internship opportunities or contact the human resources department at your dream sports organization to see what career opportunities they currently offer. “Going pro” isn’t as much of a longshot as you may think.
Did you know?
Zebra just formed an exclusive multi-year partnership with the HBCU Legacy Bowl. We have already made a charitable donation to the Black College Football Hall of Fame and, starting next year, will provide our RFID player and ball tracking technology for use during the HBCU Legacy Bowl game and the practices leading up to it. You can learn more here.