The Sophomore Year
The sophomore year, a time I believe regular students begin their collegiate manifest is the time student-athletes should start forming their plan of what is going to happen to them after they receive their degree.” I had a good GPA, and enough connections to join the Fraternity & Sorority Life going through the initiation process for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., expanding my network to like-minded individuals that had major career ambitions, preached service, and scholarship. Although the frat was enriching, it wasn’t a solution to my particular needs.
After going through an up and down matriculation as an undergraduate student-athlete not fully committing to what I wanted to do. I found myself having to make a tough decision between academics and athletics. I was a nursing major who was applying for the nursing program but failed to get accepted because my GPA was a 3.23 when the program required a minimum 3.25 GPA for consideration. You had to be excellent in your science classes, and I simply was not.
Eligibility is a huge part of the NCAA system that influences student-athletes’ experiences participating on the field of competition as well as in the classroom. Unfortunately for me, all of my credits were towards the nursing program that just declined me. I had to make the decision to either switch my major to a degree outside of health and sit a whole year out from competing. Or make the credits already achieved through the nursing track work in another health related major to continue participating in sport, so I chose to leave the nursing dream and major in Health Services Administration.
Activity restriction for changing majors is one of the many problems non-student athletes never encounter because they are not governed by NCAA legislation nor is there a rule that prevents or punishes non-student athletes from changing majors. I chose the best financial and athletic choice for me at that time because I wasn’t on a full scholarship and did not want to sit out a year because of academics. That was the first time I chose athletics, money and time over my education. I was in a major I didn’t like and had to find some way to use it for my post-graduation development.
The Junior Year
The first week of my junior year, I informed the Vice President of the Student-Athlete Leadership Council (SALC), my teammate, Marcus Ghent, and the Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development, Liz Augustin, that I wanted to step up and play a bigger role in SALC. It only took me reaching out to these people in power to ignite my drive once again. I was in SALC helping athletes and a team captain now for my team. The (SALC) is a group of the elected team leaders that provide student-athletes an avenue to enhance their leadership skills both on and off the field. The council provides student-athletes opportunities to have their voice heard and offered input on the rules, regulations, and policies that affect student-athletes’ on NCAA member institution campuses. It was during this time I decided on a career in this realm of athletics but did not know how to nor did I actively do any research into the industry I desired to enter. I spent a large part of this year wondering and trying to decide what was to be my passion outside of athletics and while actively participating in the SALC, I was still unsure of any direction I would venture into after my athletic eligibility would expire.
The Transition and My Senior Year
During my senior year I was awarded an internship with Athlete Network my duties included spreading the companies brand and services provided to fellow athletes offering them a “LinkedIn” for athletes by athletes, and yes, I thought I was gaining leeway to get my foot in the door in the collegiate athletics industry. Up until this point as an athlete, I made good decisions and had every intention of graduating without losing focus. However, I made a huge mistake, which resulted in the wake-up call I needed to motivate me in preparation for the real world.
The FIU Life Skills department invited a speaker to campus. The topic was social media, and I signed up to attend the meeting but made the mistake of taking a nap and ended up oversleeping. When I contacted the presenter via email to request the PowerPoint presentation, he responded, “We don’t get unlimited chances to have the things we want, nothing is worse than missing an opportunity that could have changed your life.” I will never know if that presentation would have changed my life because I never received it. However, his direct and cold response did, in fact, change my life.
The following day, I went into super networking mode and started calling/emailing a list of 70+ Division 1 school’s life skills/athlete development directors. A process which lasted several weeks and although I was still competing in track meets, I continued seeking “Industry Insight” and connections to land a job or assistantship because I knew graduation was coming fast. As all high school student athletes trying to attain the opportunity to compete at the next level should be aware; you have to put yourself out there. You pick up networking skills sending your highlight tape or statistics to coaches just looking for a chance and don’t even know it. I was in full get an opportunity mode as if I were a recruit.
Weeks later, I landed an interview at the University of Arkansas for a graduate assistantship position in academics but couldn’t attend the on-campus interview because I was scheduled to compete in my last conference indoor track and field competition. Before the Skype interview could be arranged, the position was filled, I felt so close and knew my athletic career got in the way of my career ambitions yet again. I was down to one last on-call interview with the University of South Carolina and was out of connection opportunities, but I noticed I missed one email reply. I scheduled my last “Industry Insight” call with Raymond Harrison of Texas A&M. We had a great conversation as I had with the previous directors, I mentioned to him how my last interview with Arkansas fell out and how I’d be interviewing for the University of South Carolina. Unbeknownst to me, he was a former director at South Carolina, and he said he would put in a good word for me because I seemed genuine in my approach to him over the phone. Now I don’t know if that connection was ever made, but I went through the interview process and was happy to receive notice that I would be a future graduate assistant at the University of South Carolina. My foot was finally in the door.
The Reality of the Real World and Transitioning
As a collegiate athlete, I was under the impression that the NCAA was a system taking advantage of the student-athlete and I wanted to change that. Now that I work in athletics; in academics and enrichment with my assigned academic advisor, my experience is a weekly eye opener not to blame the NCAA but establish a new system where student-athletes take full advantage of their scholarship, resources, and collegiate opportunity. Transitioning from the role of student-athlete to potential academic advisor operating under the scope of the SEC only exposed me to this deposition that I was always intrigued about.
I think of the majority of black student athletes across the country that need someone that looks, talks, thinks and operates like them to deliver a needed message of hope for their lives after sport. Who will lead/mentor this group of student-athletes to go above and beyond the realm of what the NCAA and their athletics program expect from them and reach for the stars? Team captains; coaches; academic advisors; life skills coordinators? This formula continues to leave out the athletes that could be motivated by one of their own. We are the present, past and future black student athletes. We are black millennials student-athletes, we want things now. We operate differently than the previous norms, and it’s proven.
The NCAA system does offer a lot of programs such as the Life Skills Symposium, the postgraduate internship, and the Leadership Forum, however, the symposium or event that caters to the personal development of black student-athletes and defines how this population can positively transition out of collegiate sports is not being offered. The NCAA system is missing targeted advising, youthful speeches at life skills events, genuine cultural sensitive mentorship – an opportunity for black student-athletes to network with each other and general student-athlete guidance eliminating the attitude of “what did the NCAA do for me?” Replacing it with the fulfillment of having the full collegiate student-athlete experience.
The experiences of the black millennial student-athlete can range from the less fortunate to the most opportune. America is a place for opportunity, and understanding that the black student-athlete from the lowest of low incomes and opportunity can accomplish something as great as receiving a full scholarship to educate themselves is incredible. But what we should start proposing is the fact that education and the degree are not enough. Implementing the personal development foundation or building upon an existing foundation is key to creating a pathway towards a passion for becoming more than just a student-athlete.
We must ask and answer the following questions truthfully. Are the leadership on the high school and NCAA level providing personal development needs and reaching as many student athletes as possible? Have we tried all ideas presented? A more important question, what are the black journalist and athletic leaders doing regarding the personal development needs of the black athlete? I am willing to step up and play a leadership role to assist in the personal development needs of this unique population. I’m hungry to take on this role to lead a generation of black student athletes that are indeed unsure of the transition to and from collegiate athletics.
Master’s Candidate in Sports & Entertainment Management | University of South Carolina | Dodie Academic Enrichment Center Graduate Assistant