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Why More Athletes Should Get a Business Degree

Part 1: Background

When I was in high school and was getting recruited by different schools, a lot of factors played into my decision of where I would attend. Things such as how far it will I be from home, the coaching staff and current players, how I felt touring the campus, and also the education. For me, the education part was just as important as basketball. I wanted to attend a school that had a high-quality business school with a great reputation because I knew that would make me highly employable after college and I was fortunate that Miami was able to offer the best of both worlds. Once I chose Miami, getting into the business school was tough and I almost didn’t get in, but I was able to meet the necessary requirements and start on the track to getting a business degree which ultimately led to me getting my degree in Finance.

Once I got into the business school, I realized that they weren’t a lot of other athletes in there. At times I felt alone and like the odd man out; not only because I was an athlete but also because I was usually the only black person in my classes. While that wasn’t uncommon at Miami, I felt like it was even more apparent in the business school. Sometimes I would hear people say that the only reason athletes got in the business school is because they were athletes and didn't have to pass the same qualifications to get in. That couldn't be farther from the truth because I as well as many other athletes were held to the exact same standard to get in while still having our full-time athletic duties. This gave me more motivation to compete in the classroom and to try to outperform the other students to show that I belonged and could exceed in the classroom and the court.

From what I could tell it seemed like most athletes at my school typically chose to major in Sports Management, Family Studies, Public Health or Kinesiology. I think that any major you choose is going to be hard and require a lot of work and I saw that from the many hours we would all spend regardless of our major at the academic center studying or meeting with tutors to help us along our way. I also believe in following your passion and if you major in sports management because you want to pursue coaching or sports broadcasting that makes sense. Or if you major in family studies because you want to be a counselor or social worker, that makes sense too. However, I think on top of that you should also have a degree in business even if you just minor in it. Just because you have a business degree doesn’t mean you can’t be connected to sports still. The Athletic Director and Head Football Coach for Miami both have degrees in Accounting! Athletics is a business whether it's college or professional sports and learning that every industry is a business is important.

As athletes, we are our own business and brand. The skills and what we can offer as an athlete and person make us a hot commodity. Learning how to market yourself, communicate effectively, and how to handle your own money are all essential skills everyone should know but especially athletes. As an athlete you are an asset, so you need to understand the difference between what an asset and liability are. With the chance of going pro as an athlete, learning basic business skills will give you more leverage and allow you not to put your life in someone else’s hands. You may still need advisors and people who have more knowledge on the subject, but you should at least have a basic understanding of how to evaluate deals and financial concepts, so you are not at the mercy of what someone else tells you. That is one of the reasons why I started this blog; I wanted to give knowledge that I’ve learned to other athletes so that they are equipped with the knowledge to help them in their future.

Part 2: Understanding Why Business is Important

According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article , 78% of National Football League (NFL) players are either bankrupt or are under financial stress within two years of retirement and an estimated 60% of National Basketball Association (NBA) players go bankrupt within five years after leaving their sport. This can stem from poor spending habits but also from bad business investments where someone told them what they should invest and the athlete just says okay because they trusted the person but never did their due diligence. With a business degree, you are able to look at the info and financials being presented, understand what you’re looking at, ask questions, and then make the decision. Knowledge is power!

Fortunately, people are trying to create a solution to help this problem. Professor Anita Elberse from Harvard Business School created the Crossover into Business class. This is a semester-long program that partners with the NBA and other professional sports leagues and gives active players a chance to develop their business acumen and explore business interests with the help of M.B.A. student-mentors. Their mission is to create a way that athletes and entertainers can have answers to the business questions they have at their fingertips. This will not only help them make an impact in their communities and in their own lives but also will help them build their platform and build their wealth into something that’s sustainable and something they can do on their own. Chris Bosh has taken the course and said that though he has financial advisers to oversee his nearly $190 million in career earnings, he wants to understand better what they’re doing and to explore post-playing options before diving back into the many business ventures and investment opportunities he’s presented with. He said this when speaking about investing, “I’ve had my failed attempts, and I’ve had a lot of them. I kind of stepped back and said, ‘Why don’t I just take this time to educate myself and really, really learn about and get at the core of what business is, how business works, and see what it is I like. Let me try to connect the dots and educate myself first before I even think about getting in the [business] game.’ Because, you know, people will take your money!

Andre Iguodala from the Warriors has said that their locker room talks heavily revolve around business. One of the major things they discuss is Tech, especially with their close proximity to Silicon Valley and the venture capitalists there. That is part of the reason why he leads an annual Players Technology Summit, the goal of which is to "give our players many options post-retirement," says Iguodala, "because there's many, many years of life when you're not playing." More and more athletes are realizing the importance of business and how it can set you up for success later in life. The more athletes realize that having an understanding about business is a huge advantage, the better!

Part 3: Excerpt from Brian Oddo

I also reached out to my good friend and former teammate Brian Oddo. Brian is currently working in Chicago as a Digital Account Executive for Epsilon and he gave me some thoughts on why athletes should pursue a business degree:

1. He said that the 1st step is to engage in self-reflection on what you value and what matters most to you. From there, you can set up how you are going to measure success in your own career. You need to ask yourself questions like do you want to make a certain amount of money? Do you want to obtain a certain job title/status within a company? Do you want to create something? Do you want to help others? Do you want to advance technology? Do you prefer the stability of a big corporate company or the excitement of a startup culture? From there your vision will be a little clearer even though it will likely change over time.

2. He believes that pursuing a career in business can be a great tool in the pursuit of your ultimate success because every profession requires a baseline understanding of business and its functions. Whether you get involved in science, math, writing, etc, the people that are the most successful understand how their company runs, what their consumer/target audience needs, and how all teams function and communicate together in order to achieve their goal.

Example: A chiropractor still needs to know how to attract clientele (sales), portray themselves (marketing), and spend/invest their money wisely (finance/accounting) in order to scale their practice and grow.

3. He also said there isn’t a single field that can offer more variety of opportunities. These are just a few examples of concentrations that you could pursue within business:

They are all so unique and always evolving. On top of that, job positions can completely change based on your industry. For him, even though he is done playing he says, “my career in business has given me that opportunity to pursue the ultimate goal of what I define as my own success.”

Part 4: Conclusion

If you don’t want to major in business, that’s fine, but I think you should minor in it. Learning the basic fundamental skills of business are very important for life after college! Going in, I didn’t have a good understanding of what interest rates were, how taxes are calculated, compound interest, or basic supply and demand but I came out knowing and understanding these concepts. At the end of the day, you want to be responsible for your life and be in a position to make the most informed decisions possible. I believe having a basic understanding of business in the form of a major or minor will help, especially as an athlete.

I would love to hear in the comment section below why you think it’s important for athletes to have a degree in business!