SBJ/December 16 - 22, 2002/Opinion

Epstein lights up the career path

When the Boston Red Sox announced during the week of Thanksgiving that they were hiring 28-year-old Theo Epstein as their general manager, making him the youngest person to hold such a title in baseball history, it can be safely assumed that more than a few heads were turned.

Many of those heads probably wondered what board member's daughter Epstein had married or some similar nepotistic notion. To the contrary, Epstein got to be the Red Sox's No. 1 baseball person the old-fashioned way. He earned it.

He hit the ground running in 1992 as a summer media relations intern for the Baltimore Orioles and has not stopped since. From Baltimore to San Diego to Boston. Media relations to baseball operations. Intern. Baseball operations assistant. Baseball operations director. Assistant GM. GM. Along the way he found time to earn an undergraduate degree at Yale and a law degree from the University of San Diego.

His other claims to fame are his father, Leslie, chairing the creative writing department at Boston University and his grandfather Phillip and grand-uncle Julius Epstein winning an Academy Award as the writers for "Casablanca." Not the usual suspects for helping a kid leapfrog to a major league baseball general manager's job.

Epstein is not the first youngster to be placed in a high-ranking position within a sports organization. Proof of that is the list published annually by this publication: Forty Under 40.

What is unique about his selection is how he arrived at his current position. His father is not a current or former team or league executive. He is not the child of an owner or investor. He is not a former star athlete in college or the pros who is "retiring" to the executive suite.

The way he attained his new job should be an inspiration and a model to every current sport management student. Work hard and long. Do anything to get noticed (in a positive vein). Learn about and work in diverse and various departments within an organization. Do not base a decision on accepting an internship or entry-level position on monetary compensation. Be patient.

Unfortunately, not enough sport management students subscribe to this philosophy. They feel that because they have a degree in sport management or they have an excellent grade point average (and no practical experience), they will walk into a position as vice president of marketing replete with two secretaries, a car, country club membership and a six-figure salary — one month after graduation.

With more than 300 colleges and universities offering some type of sports studies program either on a associate, bachelor, master or doctoral level and awarding hundreds, even thousands, of degrees each year, competition for jobs in the sport and affiliated industries is tight, and at times cutthroat. Students need to do whatever they can, whenever they can to distance themselves from their competitors. Get involved early and often. Epstein was the sports editor of Yale's student newspaper.

While Epstein's Ivy League degree and law degree from the University of San Diego have served him well and will continue to do so, those who desire a career in sport management should realize that this education path is not the sole option. Another scenario would be a solid undergraduate business education (coupled with intensive field and practical experience) followed by an MBA or business-oriented master of science degree in sport management, sport administration or closely related business discipline (coupled with intensive field and practical experience).

It may be awhile before we see "another Theo Epstein." In addition to his constant and consistent hard work, he was in the proverbial right place at the right time, and he had initiated and fostered the proper professional relationships. While the average individual currently studying sport management may not make an initial landing on the organization chart as Epstein did, he or she can certainly emulate his game plan and apply it to a personal campaign to "get a foot in the door."

James J. Riordan is director of the MBA in Sport Management program at Florida Atlantic University.

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