How do you define “making it” in sports?
In my current role as the Director of ASU Law’s Sports Law and Business graduate program, I speak with hundreds of aspiring sports professionals every year, all wanting the same thing - overnight success. But, as one of my early mentors used to love telling me in the [paraphrased] words of Bruce Springsteen, it took him 20 years to become an overnight success. If success is your goal, you are missing something critical along the way. Focus on the countless hours toiling behind the scenes, the endless relationship building, learning, growing, failing, getting back up and persevering, over and over, day in and day out – that’s the journey that matters. Forget the end game – cherish the path you are on right now. Be intentional about it, and never take anything for granted. Every day is an opportunity to compete with yesterday’s ‘you,’ and anything short of winning that competition each day will be a failure to tomorrow’s ‘you’ and everyone who counts on him/her. With that in mind, here are some of the most important lessons I have picked up along the way.
Lesson #1: Say yes to everything, and keep a positive attitude, no matter what. Take every meeting, learn from every person you come across, never look down on others who appear to be less important, less privileged, less connected. You never know where they might lead you. Some of my greatest friendships have grown out of the most random of introductions, and these have led to some incredible business opportunities.
Lesson #2: Get uncomfortable. No one has ever become a better version of themselves by staying in their bubble and fearing change and the unknown. Is there a fun volunteer opportunity with an organization you feel passionately about? Go do it. Who cares if none of your friends are interested? Fly solo, make new friends with similar interests. Impress the company. Be asked back. I have had dozens of students land dream jobs, simply because they showed up when no one else wanted to. It does not take much to stand out, so you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Lesson #3: Don’t cut corners. The person who suffers most when you take shortcuts is you, you just may not realize it until it’s too late.
Lesson #4: Don’t wait for things to come to you. I have gotten lucky several times over, because I went out seeking to create it. You will not find your luck sitting at home.
Story time. I attended Virginia Tech for undergrad after being swept up in the glory that was Michael Vick’s national championship quest in Blacksburg. The power of sport grabbed me, while watching him run circles around Florida State. I got an internship with VT Sports Information, working a tedious job behind the scenes that I loved every second of. One relationship led to another, and upon graduation, I talked my way into an Account Manager position with DVSport, and a stringer role with the local newspaper in my hometown, the Capital Gazette, covering high school sports. Bartending paid the bills.
On a whim, I decided I was destined for law school, so I set my sights on Arizona State’s College of Law with two very specific goals in mind. I wanted to become a sports agent (yes, show me the money, Jerry Maguire, all those things – spoiler alert: if you want to be an agent, dream of being Bob Sugar, not Jerry), and I wanted to create a sports law program like no other. Both were pipe dreams. Both became reality.
The Phoenix Valley was the perfect place to do it – major metropolis with a very easy airport, every sport represented in the regular season, the best off-season training in the world, only one law school serving a population of nearly 6 million people, and an open-minded administration willing to empower students to create. Lucky for me, the Sports Lawyers Association annual conference was being hosted in Phoenix my 2L summer. I registered with the plan of recruiting faculty to help build my sports law program. I hounded people, taking over the discussions in break-out sessions on how to teach sports law. I was uncharacteristically relentless.
After one such session, I was tapped on the shoulder while leaving the room. I turned to face a stranger who had been in the audience. “I’m an NFL agent. I just moved here a few months ago, and I’d love to teach a sports law course. How can I get involved?” Within 30 minutes, I had talked my way into my first internship with a sports agency, and I never looked back. The internship ended, and I kept showing up, no questions asked. This turned into a full-time job upon graduation, and my boss brought me with him when he switched agencies a year later.
I hated almost everything about the sports agent business, if you can call it that. It’s truly a lifestyle. But, I was so pot-committed that I could not see past my own shortcomings. I was not cut out for that life, and it was tearing me apart. For nearly seven years, I pretended my big break was just around the corner. I got so many silver medals in recruiting, I knew it was just a matter of time. All the while, I was growing more and more unhappy, stressed, and anxious. My greatest escape was in my frequent returns to ASU Law, helping the up-and-coming law students who followed my journey in sports law, speaking at conferences, advising and mentoring, and staying involved however I could. I enjoyed that, but I felt like a fraud, because I had not reached what my idea of success looked like.
When the law school’s administration decided it was time to formally launch a sports law program, I came up with a plan to help, and I reached out to the Dean for a meeting. He liked my ideas, and we got to work building what I view as my greatest professional accomplishment. It took incredible amounts of time, energy, and dedication from so many people to get it launched. I was a small piece in the machine, but I always showed up, and I always asked for more to do. I took on a larger and larger role, shrinking away further and further from the agent life. I was happy. I felt rewarded. I was finally making an impact. Students were realizing their dreams, and I was a part of that. My greatest fulfillment is in knowing that my work has created opportunities for others. I never thought I would land in academia, but it has forever changed the way I view myself, reshaped my own personal and professional goals, and given me a purpose I had no idea I was missing.
Parting words? If you are doing your part to learn, improve, get out of your comfort zone, build genuine relationships, show your passion, and make an impact, you will either realize your dreams, or, like I did, discover that your dreams weren’t really your dreams, and you’ll achieve better ones.
Sam Renaut is the Director of Sports Law and Business at ASU. Prior to that he was an Account Manager at DV sports, a marketing coordinator at Lagadere Unlimited and was a consultant at PlayersRep sport management. He's now dedicated his career to giving back, teaching and developing others. He's also a clubhouse mentor, so if you'd like to chat with Sam, you can become a clubhouse pro and schedule a call with him here.