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Volume 24 No. 156
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Commencement ceremonies include wisdom from sports industry

SportsBusiness Journal this week offers a look at several members of the sports industry who spoke to college graduates at commencement ceremonies across the country this spring. Here are some additional speakers who shared anecdotes and words of encouragement with the members of the class of 2015.

Domonique Foxworth
National Basketball Players Association, COO
University of Maryland
“I loved being a football player, but I always thought of myself as more, and luckily, I found more to do. The season I tore up my knee [2010] was also the same year my daughter Avery was born and my wife was finishing up law school, so I put all of my energies into becoming a full-time dad. It was also the year that the players union of which I was first a rep then executive committee member then finally president started negotiating with the NFL. Talk about preconceived notions — first in the NFL and now in my role heading the day-to-day operations of the National Basketball Players Association. I have encountered more than a few who ask why athletes making millions need a union at all. I understand where that question comes from. As professional athletes, we are extremely fortunate, but we are not immune to being taken advantage of either. Workers’ compensation, rights for gay athletes, protection from corrupt agents and advisers — the issues are still one of respect and fundamental fairness. Dignity is a right for everyone, and sometimes it has to be fought for — and a power of a union or any group for that matter to demand those things comes from the cohesion of its members. That’s something I believe, and it drove my work with the NFLPA and now the NBPA.”

Lindsay Czarniak
ESPN, anchor
James Madison University
“For me, my passion, and it took me years to find this, is when I know someone I’m interviewing is sharing something special, something unique with me that they haven’t shared before. It’s like when an NFL player admits the toughest thing about success was to cut out lifelong friends that weren’t good influences. When the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski cried like a baby when he knew his injury could be so bad that he could never play football again. It’s when Dale Earnhardt Jr. told me that it takes him 10 beers to get him onto the dance floor. That’s what I chase, and that’s what I want you to continue to discover. This is not an overnight thing. Some of you may know it now, some of you it may take years down the road. But you need to find that feeling, what your ‘why’ is for doing what you do.”… Above all, be respectful and be kind to everyone. Everyone has a story. You don’t know that story. And that goes for anybody out there: the general manager of a Major League Baseball team or the man working security at an arena where you are broadcasting.”

Shane Battier
ESPN analyst, former NBA player
Duke University, Fuqua School of Business
“We lost four first-round draft picks to the [1999] NBA draft. … The cupboard was bare. Everyone came out and said Duke was done, all they have is a bunch of role players and young freshman coming in. While I was working in a public relations firm in Chicago that summer, I got a call from Coach K one day. He said, ‘Shane, how you doing?,’ and I said, ‘Pretty good,’ and he said ‘Are you ready to lead us back to the Final Four next year?,’ and I said, ‘Well, coach —’ and, Click! He hung up on me. [He] calls back same time next day and says ‘Shane, sorry about yesterday. We must have gotten disconnected. Are you ready next year to average 20 points and 10 rebounds and to win the ACC tournament?’ And I said, ‘Coach, it’s pretty funny,” Click! I finally wised up the third time, when he called back and said ‘Shane, are you ready to lead us back to a national championship, a place where it’s about our standard of play?’ And I said, ‘Yes, coach. I am ready. I am ready to uphold the standards of what Duke basketball, what Duke University, is all about; the reason I came to the greatest school in the entire world. And he said, ‘That’s what I’m waiting for.’ That was a lesson that hit home to me.”

Marty Smith
ESPN, reporter
Radford University
“Learn to listen. If you learn to listen, it will benefit you. That one took me a lot of time I want to save you. Listen. Your parents, co-workers, friends, siblings: They all have interesting things to say. Be selfless and attentive that way. Shut up and listen a minute; you’ll be better for it. Some of the greatest leaders in our history were and are great listeners. In today’s world of constant pestering, great listeners stand out. Good listeners often demand attention and command respect. If you’re selective, they will be invariably attentive to you. That’s one reason I am where I am in sports journalism. …
“I urge you to help others. It’s the greatest professional reward in this life. It’s hard to understand right now, as you’re getting ready to have this diploma in your hand. It’s hard to understand what ‘paying it forward’ means, but as you age a little bit and have a greater context, I promise you, nothing feels better.”

Archie Griffin
Ohio State University, senior vice president of alumni relations
Ohio State University
“Your failures in life do not define you. How you handle that adversity, how you pick yourself up off the ground and come back the next day is a true measure of your worth. … Consider this: Some of your classmates faced such a situation on Sept. 6, when Virginia Tech came into this very stadium and beat our beloved football Buckeyes. Remember that? All was lost, we thought. A season ended before it had properly begun. Well, someone forgot to tell the guys in Ohio State’s locker room. They buckled down and came together to overcome great odds, overcoming the loss to the Hokies, the season-ending injury of two quarterbacks, the unthinkable tragic death of a teammate, all while the outside world told them they had no chance at a championship. Yet, when the clock hit zeroes and the confetti fell, the Ohio State Buckeyes were national champions. The most remarkable season in the history of Ohio State football, and they were there because they believed in themselves, they supported each other, and they did not let their collective fumbles stop them from achieving their dreams.”

John Harbaugh
Baltimore Ravens, head coach
Stevenson University
Note: The following recounts a game from when Harbaugh was an assistant coach at Western Michigan University, working under his father, Jack, who was head coach.
“We’re down by six points with about a minute left in the game, and we’re driving for the winning score. We complete a 40- to 50-yard pass down the field, and things are looking good, and I look back and there’s a yellow flag flying in the air. Guy says ‘Holding against them,’ and I said ‘You’ve gotta be kidding!’ I did not agree with the call. (Does that surprise you?) We shook it off, offense goes back to the line, and we throw another pass that was completed again, and what do we get? Holding a second time in a row. It’s a conspiracy! So I ripped off my headset, turned around, and threw them as far as I could. I can picture it today: They’re twirling around like a helicopter, flying through the air over the team. They land right in front of the opposing team’s band and student section. I turn around, and there’s my dad, head coach. You know what he said? ‘Go get ’em.’ I said, ‘What? What??’ And he said, ‘The headphones.’… Never since have I thrown headphones. Sometimes we learn lessons the hard way.”