Speakers representing the NBA, NFL, MLB, ACC and Minor League Baseball discussed their experiences in the sports industry and highlighted the value of a diverse work force.
As part of the Elon Sport Careers Diversity Forum, six panelists representing the most prominent professional leagues in the country shared advice with students, addressing their experiences as student athletes and communications majors, their careers in the sports industry, and the importance of a diverse workforce.
Panelists included Kelvin Scott, senior director of human resources for the Washington Nationals; Patrick Rees ’05, vice president of communications for the Philadelphia 76ers; Odell Benton ’15, manager of inside sales for the Philadelphia 76ers; Austin Hamilton ’15, marketing coordinator for the Washington Football Team; Kelsey Harris ’14, assistant director of women’s basketball for the Atlantic Coast Conference; and Grace Eng ’15, director of special events for the Charlotte Knights.
During the Jan. 19 conversation, the working professionals were asked what advice they would give to their younger selves, and Rees noted the importance of utilizing your available resources.
“Take advantage of the resources Elon has to offer,” Rees said. “When I look back at my time at Elon, it was maybe the best four years of my life. But I did not take advantage of the many, many resources the university has to offer.”
Several panelists mentioned the value of mentorships and identifying a mentor who can help guide your professional path. Eng said she has three mentors and they all contribute in different ways. When looking for a mentor, Eng explained that identifying someone who can help you grow professionally is just as important as finding someone who can help you grow personally.
“Don’t be afraid to find a mentor that can help you balance the work and personal life that you’ll eventually have,” Eng said. “The balance of work and personal life, especially in sports, is one that we all deal with on a consistent basis.”
Hamilton said he saw firsthand the positive impact of diversity in this year’s Washington Football Team. While the team has publicly struggled with its culture on and off the field, Hamilton said the organization’s work environment improved once it made diversity a priority.
“We went from being a laughingstock in the NFC East to being NFC East champions, and that started with the hire of Jason Wright was the first Black president in the NFL,” Hamilton said. “We did all these things that put diversity and inclusion at the forefront. And, in my opinion, there’s no coincidence as to why the success on the field carried over. It may not seem like an important thing or big thing, but trust me, it was. And I’m glad to see a lot of organizations starting to put diversity at the forefront.”
Eng recalled that she was one of just two women in her office when she started her career with the Boston Red Sox. But by the time she left, there were nine females in executive positions. Today, one of her personal goals in Charlotte is to remember that females can bring about real change within the sports industry, even when it doesn’t seem possible.
“The females in the office rallied behind each other, [but] we also took accountability. We weren’t going to always make it a female concern, we were going to make sure that it was a unified measure for the organization,” Eng said.
In his role in human resources for the Nationals, Scott said he tries to look at diversity and inclusion from an employee’s standpoint. “I want employees to feel inclusive and they can bring their whole selves to work,” Scott said.
A diverse workplace also contributes to better serving your audience, Benton explained. The manager of inside sales for the Philadelphia 76ers said it helps to have people on a team who can resonate with their fans’ experience.
“I think for a long time we were asking those questions to the wrong people who couldn’t necessarily relate,” Benton said. “Having a diverse staff is not only important for the culture that you drive in your organization, but also how you can resonate with your fans and make an impact in the community as well.”
The event was held in partnership with the Student Professional Development Center, the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education, and the Sport Management Department.