If you work in sports, you likely grew up idolizing an athlete or coach. In fact, many professionals, regardless of their industry, were inspired in some way by a sports hero.
Professional athletes are incredibly motivational and have a lot of influence on their fans. People buy their jerseys, memorabilia, trading cards, and shirts. They spend money to travel and see their sports heroes live in action. They actively follow them on several social media platforms. It’s no wonder why they’re used for marketing campaigns.
But their role in fans’ lives runs much deeper than material objects. They can even inspire people in how they manage their daily lives and their careers.
We spoke to two instructors from the Master’s in Sports Industry Management program at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies to learn about their sports heroes.
Here’s a look at what they had to say:
The Power of Sports
When you work in sports, you’re not merely a fair weather fan who has Sportscenter on from time to time. And you aren’t just collecting baseball cards and playing sports video games. You have a much bigger connection to sports.
Steve Goodman, who works as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and is the chief relationship officer at Arjuna Solutions, a predictive analytics software company, said his hero was Doug Williams, the quarterback for the Washington Redskins.
“I didn’t know at the time but I wanted to be associated with things that brought people together and were fun,” he said. “Nothing brings people together more than sports and/or music.
“Doug Williams brought together Redskins fans but he took it a step further and united people from different backgrounds, races, and careers — everyone celebrating a common goal. He was the reason I chose to work in sports — to be a small part of something that powerful.”
The Face of Adversity
Williams’ contributions to the world of sports didn’t come easy. In the late 1970’s, he was the only starting Black American quarterback in the NFL. As his career progressed, he left the NFL for the USFL, then returned after the USFL shut down in 1986.
He was a backup quarterback for the Washington Redskins but eventually earned the starter role and made history. On January 31, 1988, he became the first Black American quarterback to play in the Super Bowl and led his team to victory against the legendary Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway.
This game is Williams highest achievement and to Goodman, a very meaningful event.
“Winning and becoming MVP of the Super Bowl is hard enough,” Goodman said. “Doing it when your ability is questioned simply because of your race is even harder. He also silenced his critics, all while showing the next generation that they, too, can work hard enough to achieve their dreams no matter who or what they came from.”
Sports figures like Williams make tremendous strides in social and political climates. Victories like this are more than just a trophy or a ring. They’re a movement.
Using Celebrity for Bigger Causes
Dave Tyahla, an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University, said that true heroes are defined by how they live on and off the field.
“I’ve always believed the term ‘hero’ is used far too often in sports,” he said. “’Super Stars.’ ‘Icons.’ ‘World Champions.’ These are fine, but to me, sports figures only achieve ‘hero’ status based on how they live(d) their lives on and off the field of play.”
To Tyahla, athletes who used their celebrity status to contribute to the greater good really stand out.
“Individuals, like Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Jesse Owens, and Roberto Clemente, who used their sports celebrity, including their ‘time, talent, and treasure’ to help others and promote meaningful social change,” he said. “These are the sports figures who transcended their Hall-of-Fame careers and became true champions for social change.
He said their courage and integrity is what inspired him the most and helped him understand this message from Nelson Mandela: sport has the power to change the world.
“You can’t ignore the immense influence that Robinson and King have had in promoting racial and gender equality and social justice,” he said. “It would take hours to even scratch the surface of what these sports figures have meant to society.”
From Inspiration to Action
It’s one thing to feel a sense of deep appreciation and admiration for sports figures. However, when you actually create a path and manage a career that is inspired by your hero’s contributions, you’re making a big difference and advancing your hero’s mission.
“I’ve spent most of my professional career and personal time working in sports philanthropy, sports-based youth development, and outdoor recreation,” Tyahla said. “This is due entirely to the inspiration I’ve found from the positive role sport can play in society, which I learned through the examples of my true sports heroes.”
He said he feels fortunate that he can share his passion for how sports impacts society through community engagement, teaching and advocacy. His work in sports involves teaching students about social responsibility and sports philanthropy. He will often challenge them to come up with a Mount Rushmore of sports and social heroes.
“It’s not as easy to cut it down to four as you might think,” he said. “However, it’s gratifying to see that the positive legacy of heroic individuals like Ali, Robinson, and King is very secure in the eyes of those who will be charged with leading the sports industry in the future.”
You’re the next generation who will take the sports industry forward, and you will continue the mission of these amazing sports heroes. Who are your sports heroes? How do they inspire you?
When you have a better understanding of who your heroes are, you know what values are most important to your personal and professional life. You have a clear mission to pursue.
What heroes inspire your work in sports? Share in the comments!