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The Pretty Factor: Must Women Be Beautiful To Work In Sports?

March 31, 2014

Since launching RulingSports.com and beginning my foray into the sports world in 2011, the question I am most frequently asked by strangers and students alike is, “Does a woman have to be pretty to work in sports?”  I wish I was kidding about this, but it’s the truth.

I find it really funny that people ask me this.  It’s funny to me, largely because the people who ask me this question on a whim largely have no idea that I struggled with body image and my own looks for the bulk of my life.  I hit puberty before any of my friends.  Thus, I sprouted new body parts and looks from my male classmates at an earlier age.  Concurrent with my puberty, my perfectly straight hair decided to become incessantly kinky and unmanageable.  At age 15, uncomfortable in my own skin, I picked up an eating disorder that I wouldn’t fully kick until I was 19.  When I lived in LA, surrounded by models and actors as friends, I never felt beautiful enough.

It wasn’t until I launched RulingSports.com and entered the sports world that I accepted myself fully for who I am.  Accepting myself fully meant accepting the brain God gave me, the senses of humor and kindness my parents instilled in me and fully loving the 5’3″ pear-shaped body and round face that I call mine.  In all honesty, I think it took me starting RulingSports.com to accept every bit of myself, because starting the website was the first time that I set my heart loose to pursue its wildest dreams.  It was the first time that I truly dove in and embraced who I was and let all of my fears go.  The risk I took in putting myself out to the world to share my ideas was one of the most freeing experiences of my life.  I was raw, exposed and out there for everyone to see.

What I realized in starting RulingSports.com, is that when you are who you are and come to the world organically, you will be met with love.  Success in sports–or in any industry, relationship or venture, for that matter–has less to do about what you look like and more to do with what you are about.  I truly believe this.

While I don’t have a career-based example for my point above, I do have the four years of my life that were the longest relationship I immersed myself in during my 20s.  That relationship was largely based on looks.  When our paths crossed in 2005, what struck each of us was how we looked.  When they crossed again in 2010, it was a similar situation.  Whenever our path got rocky, I thought I could solve our problems by throwing on the hottest dress in my closet, getting a good spray tan, a blowout and losing five pounds.  This process would get us through a hump, but never fully over our problems.  It didn’t matter if I was at my prettiest or at my ugliest, at the end of it all, the failure of our relationship had nothing to do with my looks, but rather, all to do with our hearts.

I will never allow myself to re-enter that relationship, but in the way we have interacted in the months that have followed its end, I’ve realized where we went wrong.  I realized where we went wrong when I started listening and stopped looking.  When I started listening, I heard dreams, wishes, hopes, pains, hurts and fears.  Our hearts and their intentions were being covered by our attempts to make ourselves outwardly attractive.  In listening, I finally got to know a person who for so long, my eyes wouldn’t truly let me see.

I tell the story above mostly as an anecdote of what happens when the basis of another’s worth is solely placed upon their looks.  When you base the worth of another person solely on what they look like, you miss out on understanding the person as a whole.  And to be successful at anything, a person must give their whole self.

So, the question.  Must women be attractive to work in sports?  I’ve answered this question many ways.  The first time I was asked it, I spouted off about how I have never seen an ugly person.  The person I told this to scoffed, but I truly stand by that proclamation.  I have never looked at a person I didn’t know and thought, “Wow.  That person is ugly.”  To me, beauty and ugliness are not about aesthetics.  Rather, they are written on the heart.  And the heart lets itself show in how people treat other people, how they carry themselves and what they value.

Given that to me, beauty is written on the heart, I guess my answer to the question above is yes, women must be beautiful to work in sports.  On the same note, so must men.  What makes people successful in this industry is how they treat one another.  This industry is small. And when industries are small, word travels fast.  If you step on someone the wrong way in this industry, news will spread fast.  In the same regard, if you take steps in the right direction, news of it will be celebrated quickly.

I find it curious that the question I’ve been asked the most over the last three years is whether a woman has to be beautiful to work in this industry.  I’ve been mulling over why people are fascinated with this topic.  And the only thing I can come up with, is because the people most laypeople associate as being successful in the sports industry are sports reporters.  While those women are certainly beautiful in an aesthetic sense, seeing them as only that misses the point.  Erin Andrews is one of the most eye-pleasing women I have ever seen.  However, as someone who studies broadcasters before she goes on TV, Erin Andrews is also one of the finest at her craft.  Her extemporaneous speaking skills are something anyone should aspire to have.  Her ability to think on her feet is something this lawyer stands in awe of.  Her quick wit that arises in tough situations is something I think we all wish we had.  The point I am trying to make, is that Erin Andrews is more than a pretty face.  She is an incredibly talented woman, whose looks in my opinion, are bolstered by that talent.

Why, then, is there such a focus on what women must look like to work in sports?  I unfortunately believe this misperception is caused by two things:  1.  The fact that the majority of the industry is made up of men and 2.  The large media focus on the industry.  I want to be careful explaining what I mean with my statement above.  I am not saying that because sports is a male-dominated industry, those males require their female counterparts be beautiful.  In all honesty, I have never experienced anything of this sort since I entered the industry.  Not once has my agent told me to change my look, lose weight or dress differently.  Rather, the men in this industry have always encouraged me to continue to be myself and further my knowledge.  They have motivated me to become an expert in my field and to use that expertise–not my looks–to guide my advancement in this industry.

Yet, I think the fact that the industry is largely male-dominated creates misperceptions for those outside of the industry as to what women must look like to be part of it.  I think when outsiders look at the industry and think about the women they are familiar with who work in it, they see trends.  Those trends are exacerbated by a media who feeds it to them.  And as such, for many, it becomes reality. However, for those who live in this world, we know that reality is about more than what clothes a woman wears, how she styles her hair or how white her smile is.  Reality is about what is on that woman’s heart.  What her values are.  How she treats others.  What knowledge she has.  How hard she is willing to work.  And how well she will take care of herself.

I’m proud to be a woman who works in this industry.  I’m proud, because for women, our future in this industry is as bright as we choose to make it.  If we choose to make our success in the sports world about looks, that would be our misstep.  Instead, if we choose to support one another for what our dreams say about our heart, there is room for each of our successes.  And to me, that’s a beautiful thing.

Riding Roller Coasters And Dancing On Tables

March 25, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I was flying home from a visit in California.  I had a layover in Dallas and had to ride the tram from one terminal to another.  With as much as I fly, I know exactly where to position myself in the tram to make it off of the tram the fastest.  Given this, I always step into the first car and stand in the corner near the door.

On our first terminal stop, a couple stepped in and positioned themselves at the very front of the tram facing the window that looked outward.  This couple was probably in their mid-20s and were dressed mildly like hipsters.  Nothing particularly stood out about them.  They weren’t being incredibly affectionate towards each other.  They weren’t saying much.  Everything changed when the tram took off.

As the tram picked up speed, they both shot each other a look of knowing and gave each other a slight head nod.  They then both took a skier-like stance and hurled their arms up in the air.  It was as though before they came onto the tram, they made an agreement to play a game to see who could actually hold their balance as the tram moved quickly from one terminal to the next.  They made no sounds, just facial expressions that mimicked those of riders on a roller coaster.  Other tram riders shot each other confused looks, but one passenger and I caught eyes and just started laughing.  They were uninhibited, quietly wild and having more fun than anyone should on an airport tram.  In their quick glances to each other in our brief ride, it’s like they were sending the rest of us passengers a message.  That message?  Let go, start living and embrace childlike fun.

If there is one thing I loathe about being a professional, it is the fact that oftentimes those surrounding me in this world filled with meetings and business suits don’t know how to have fun.  Rarely is there laughter.  Seldom is there a joke.  And God forbid if you come to the table with either.  In the business world, laughter, humor and fun are oftentimes seen as weaknesses.  It is no coincidence that there are more adults on antidepressants than children.  Medical reasons aside, our adult society’s way of sapping the fun out of life may be largely responsible for the general unhappiness of many of my adult peers.

In the early months of the year, I travel the country visiting with sorority women to help them become leaders and set goals for the year.  While I doubt my sorority would be thrilled that I do this, one thing I always tell the women to do, is to dance on a table at some point in college.  When I tell them this, I get a lot of giggles.  I also get confused looks from rooms full of women who have likely dozed off from listening to me up until this point.  Realizing that I have their attention again, I say, “Yea, dance on a table when you are in college.  Or, dance on a couple of tables.  However many it may be, just dance.”

Seeing their confused looks, I quickly clarify my point.  No, I am not telling them to dance provocatively.  No, I am not telling them to dance drunkenly.  No, I am not telling them to dance to get the attention of the coed they’ve been eyeing.  Rather, my anecdote of dancing on the table is one of letting loose.  It’s one of recognizing that because of the confines our society has placed on adulthood, the window to dance on tables is small.  As I say, “Once you are a lawyer, you cannot dance on a table.  So, dance now.  Dance often.  And dance wildly.”

After I tell them this, I often question myself and wonder, at what point does fun really begin disappearing from social interactions?  At what point does serious talk take over and laughter is swept under the rug when meeting new people? At what age are happiness, giddiness and joy seen as weaknesses amongst human beings?

I travel a lot around the country giving speeches at various universities.  I oftentimes get to sit down with industry leaders and peers at these events, and it always slays me that few smile.  Few of these people laugh.  There are seldom any jokes shared.  It’s like once you hit adulthood, the games go from fun ones to “Let’s see who can keep their stone face on the longest.”  These are people who have everything to smile, laugh and joke about.  They are people who have few financial worries and limited professional concern.  But, they are the most hesitant to let loose.  They are the most reluctant to let a smile fade through their face, over the fear that it may be perceived as weaknesses or intellectual inabilities.

A few months ago, I wrote in my journal that going to law school might have been one of the worst decisions of my life.  I clearly didn’t mean this, but I think there was a deeper point in the sentences that followed.  The sentences that followed, though, painted a picture of life before and after law school.  Alicia before law school was vivacious.  The life of the party.  Filled with jokes, high jinx and good stories.  Alicia after law school was reserved.  Scared of saying the wrong thing.  Slow to joke, laugh and crack smiles.

The professional world has a problem.  Yes, there is a time to be serious.  But are seriousness and professionalism entirely interrelated?  Must someone be stripped of their personality to be taken seriously?

Seeing that couple on the tram in Dallas brought so many of these thoughts to the forefront of my mind.  I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately and I keep coming back to the questions of “What do I want to be?” and “How do I want to be seen?”  Watching them helped me answer.  I want to be seen as free.  I want my reactions to events to be natural and not staged.  I want the way I enter a room or deal with an event to be led by joy and happiness.  When people talk about me, the first word I want them to associate with my name is “Happiness.”  Not shrewd.  Not bright.  Not sharp.  Happy.

It’s time that professionals stop seeing happiness, laughter and joy as negatives and signs of weakness.  And in order for the transition to come, it is time that we start fostering workplaces–like the one I am lucky enough to be in at the University of Miami–that celebrate happiness and well-being.  We need to start also telling our young people that it is ok for them to responsibly act like young people.

So, what roller coasters can you ride?  What tables can you dance on?  What unexpected areas in your life can you create joy in?  And finally, what are you waiting for?

 

Regrets

March 13, 2014

I push myself too hard sometimes.  I take on too much.  I rarely say “no.”  Even though I average at least seven hours of sleep per night, it’s because it’s go-go-go the other 17.

This week is The U’s spring break.  I have a couple of great writing and media opportunities to add to my wheelhouse that are waiting at the doorstep.  Knowing all of this, my dad said, “Alicia, just go.  Go somewhere.  Take a day for yourself.  Figure out what it is exactly that you’re trying to do.  And who you are trying to be.”

So on Tuesday, I packed up my car and drove west to Marco Island, FL.  I laid on the beach for hours with just a venti Chai tea latte from Starbucks and my journal. I haven’t journaled in ages.  And as I laid there, my life became clearer.  What I want became more apparent.  The rules and boundaries I need to set for myself showed their lines.  And for the first time in awhile, everything about life seemed more than ok.  It seemed to make sense.  It was peaceful.

That day, one of my dear friends called me.  She told me that her father, who has been one of the biggest mentors in my career, has ALS.  I don’t know what you do when someone tells you that news.  As someone who is usually sarcastic and quick with a joke, I just listened to her.  And talked to her about remaining hopeful.  And told her my thoughts on regrets.

A few years ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer.  As I made the 14-hour drive from California to Colorado to see him in the hospital, we didn’t know if it was bladder or liver cancer.  The better diagnosis would be bladder cancer, as liver cancer almost always precipitates a quick death.  On that 14-hour journey, I began making a mental checklist of things I wanted to do with my dad.  Hit golf balls.  Go to baseball games.  Talk about his past.  Ask what kind of guy he thought I should end up with.

As I listened to my friend share her fears and her hopes and her worries on Tuesday, I kindly chimed in and suggested she make a mental list.  What things does she want to share with her dad in this time she knows she has left with him?  What pieces of him does she want to take away?

This life here, it’s temporary.  As crazy as it sounds, even though I’ve experienced a lot of death in my life–and even young death–I am only just now realizing that.  I remember one of my favorite judges looking at me a few years ago as I told him my weekend plans and saying, “Oh, how good it must be to still feel invincible.”

I don’t know what’s changed about my life to make me think of it as being more precious.  Perhaps it’s holding the young lives that my friends have made.  Or going home and realizing that every time I get off the plane my parents are getting older.  Regardless of the cause, one thing is certain:  I don’t want regrets.

That’s what I came away with on my forced day off on Tuesday.  What I want out of this life, is to come away from it saying, “There is nothing I regret.”  I took every chance I wanted.  I tried everything I should have.  I loved as best as I could.  And I forgave even when I shouldn’t.  The only thing that will make your life hurt at its end, if you ask me, is regret.

So let go.  Let people in.  Even if it’s the 10,000th time you’ve opened the door.  Take a risk.  Say “yes” to a chance.  Hope for the best.  Don’t fall down when life doesn’t give you the best.  Dance whenever someone asks.  Sing at the top of your lungs at least once.  And laugh.  Because life, when you get deep down to the bottom of it, is a hilarious mystery.  And the best thing you can do, is live it.

A Tip For Women Working In Sports: Answer The Call

March 6, 2014

Earlier this week, I had the great opportunity to attend Executive Women’s Day at Trump National Doral ahead of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.  The event featured a behind-the-ropes tour of the resort, a conversation with Phil Mickelson’s caddie and panel discussions with female leaders in sports and business.

One question asked of the female panelists was what practice they’ve witnessed men adopt in their careers which helps them move forward, which women seem hesitant to adopt.  In particular, I loved Kim Stone’s response to this question.  Kim works as the executive vice president and general manager of AmericanAirlines Arena and The HEAT Group.  Kim began her response by noting that in her career, she’s seen men as always being willing to lend those they know a helping hand.  The example she made was that oftentimes, men pick up the phone and call other men to ask for things.  The favors they solicit range from job leads to sales leads and how to approach a potential client to whether or not they should accept a job offer.  Kim said that when a man picks up the phone to ask another man a favor, there is no question of his motive nor concern over how each side is benefitting from the conversation.  This practice is seen as normal and part of the ordinary course for men who transact business.  Even if a man hasn’t spoken to the person calling him in ages, he will not chastise the caller for that and will do the best he can to help him.

I have seen this practice firsthand.  Kim has worked in the basketball industry since 1996.  Thus, it’s likely that the examples she was referring to stem from male contacts she has in the basketball industry.  In my own life, I have also seen basketball coaches use this method.  For instance, one night a friend of mine who is a professional basketball coach received a text message that a college coaching job opened.  This text message came in the middle of a dinner we were having after not seeing each other for months.  In the midst of our conversation, he looked at his phone and said verbatim, “Who do I want to get a job?”  After we left dinner, he sent text messages to people he believed were qualified for the job and may have interest in it.  For him, there was no discussion of what these people had done for him or how present they were in his life.  Rather, he realized he had an opportunity to help others and sprung to action with it.

Kim notes that on the flip side, when it comes to women, we are often hesitant or questioning when we are put in similar situations.  When a contact who we haven’t spoken to in awhile calls us for a professional favor, our first internal question is rarely “What can I do to help this person?” but more often, “What are this person’s motives?”  Women are guided largely by their feelings, and because of this, we oftentimes approach business as skeptics.  Kim argued that while intuition and emotions can be used to further a woman’s career, in this type of a situation, they can hamper it.  Women need to be able to separate feelings over why someone is calling them to ask for something and rather, realize it is just part of business.

It’s understandable why women approach business this way.  As children, we are taught to question others.  That boy who asks you to the Prom?  What are his motives?  The guy who puts a ring on your finger?  What does he really want from you?  Not only are women taught early on to question why and what people want from them, but women are also taught to give selflessly of themselves to the point that they become fearful of asking of others to fulfill their needs.

In late-December last year, I experienced this.  I felt that I was being asked so much from others, but nothing was coming my way in return.  Every email I received was someone from some corner of the earth asking me for something.  Publicists.  Students.  Advisees.  Family.  Friends.  That random guy I met at a sporting event.  Everyone wanted something from me and it was driving me NUTS, because nobody was offering me anything.  Nobody said, “Hey, how are YOU?”  Nobody said, “What is new with YOU?”  Not one person offered, “Hey, here is how I want to help YOU!”  All I was reading was “Me, me, me” and it was driving me crazy, crazy, CRAZY!  Rather than furthering my career, I was throwing a pity party and doing a great job at avoiding corresponding with others.

Hearing Kim speak this week made me realize how terribly I handled my late-December situation.  A man in my place would have responded to every request in a way that offered his hand to the best of his abilities.  There would be no questions asked.  There would be no feelings hurt over not being asked about his feelings.  There would be no “poor me” stories.  All there would be, is moving forward with business.

In order to get ahead in business, women need to realize that give and take is necessary.  Each of us will confront situations in which we need something from others.  We all take from others at some point in our careers.  However, we need to be willing to give.  And part of giving is realizing that you do not need to get to give.  Maybe the person on the other end of the line hasn’t spoken to you in ages.  Maybe you weren’t invited to their wedding.  Maybe they blew you off at a happy hour.  SO WHAT!  The name of the game is “Business,” not “Best Friendness” (which is probably a good thing, since “friendness” is not a word).

The point in all of this, is perhaps men get further ahead in the business world because they do not question motives.  If they have something that can help others, they give it.  This practice creates efficiency for them.  With the time they didn’t waste in questioning motives, they already helped another person and got back to their own work.  By questioning motives, all that one does is waste time.  Not only are they not helping someone, they are also not being as efficient as they can in their own work.

So, the next time the near stranger calls and asks for something, think first what you can do for them and not why they are calling.  It’s a simple idea that can lead to greater professional success.

The Day Sonny Liston Borrowed My Dad’s Bike

February 25, 2014

I really hope I have children someday, if only so my dad can tell them his awesome stories.  Like the time he caddied for Joe Louis at Denver’s City Park Golf Course.  And Louis tipped him a buck (“That man was a cheapskate!).  Or the time he walked out of a bathroom stall in a bar to see Chuck Berry washing his hands.  “No I didn’t shake his hand!  You don’t shake hands with someone after you go to the bathroom!”

The one I learned today, though, might be my favorite.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the epic fight between Sonny Liston and the man the world then knew as Cassius Clay.  For all the world knew, when the two men entered the ring on that February Miami night, the 22-year-old Clay was going to meet his demise.  He was going to get pummeled.  Destroyed.  Leveled.  There would be no Muhammad Ali, because Clay was going to be ended on February 25, 1964 at the behest of Liston.

Months before the fight, my 14-year-old dad was engaging in his normal day-to-day activities in Denver.  During those days, he oftentimes found himself at City Park Golf Course.  I think my dad was born a hustler, and at a golf course, he was amongst his kind.  He earned money caddying and shagging balls for Denver’s upper echelon.

After he made his keep, he’d hop on his bike, cruise around the park’s lake and if he made enough change, he’d stop and get a snow cone.  This day, he had enough in his pocket to pick up the snow cone.  As he handed his money over for his treat, he saw a big, shiny black Cadillac pull up.  Its driver, a large, athletic African-American man.  Its passenger, a beautiful, svelte blonde woman.  He thought nothing of it.

The man hopped out of the driver’s side, looked at my dad and said, “Hey, kid.  Can I ride your bike?”  And my dad said, “Sure, go ahead.”

This was the part of the story that raised a flag in my mind.  My dad taught me street smarts, largely because he was raised by the street.  While he doesn’t have a college education, he taught me how to play the game and in turn, how not to get played.  So I chimed in, “You let a complete stranger take your bike?!”

“Yea, obviously, Alicia.  I let him take my bike because I knew who he was.”

So, one day in 1964, Sonny Liston asked my dad to borrow his bike.  And he rode it around Denver’s City Park lake (“It took him about five minutes,” per my dad) and brought it back to my adolescent father, who in all honesty, was probably happily eating his snow cone and ogling at Liston’s date.  He said, “Thanks, kid,” hopped back in the Cadillac, shut the door and drove off.  “I was so stupid, that I didn’t even think to get his autograph.  It didn’t seem like a big deal,” my dad would remember 50-years later.

Seven rounds into that epic fight in Miami, the champion sat in his corner, unwilling to come back out to fight.  A kid, who would later be called the “World’s Greatest,” would come out of his to fight.  And that night, the world changed.  From everyone’s eyes, it was a big deal.  It was the 1960s’ David and Goliath story in a sense.  The toughest man in the world could be beaten.  And nonetheless, he could be beaten by a kid, who just hours before, had to be physically restrained because his nerves had gotten the best of him.

As a sportswriter who comes into contact with some of the greatest athletes in the world frequently, my dad’s story spoke volumes to me.  It told me, that even in the face of a brutal, barbaric champion, there was a childlike persona hiding behind the mask.  To think that at the height of his success, Liston was still curious enough and playful enough to ask a stranger boy for a joyride on his bike, puts into perspective the mindset of an athlete who knew he was about to engage in one of sports’ greatest battles.  That story–of perseverance, being able to accept defeat and of finding joy in small things even when great success is achieved–is one that someday, I hope my dad gets to tell my children about the day he let a boxer borrow his bicycle.

Teach Them To Fish

February 17, 2014

I have a Monday evening after-work ritual.

I live in a bubble in Miami.  My condo is on a private island that is gated.  My neighbors are CEOs and NBA players and yacht owners.  When I go to work, I drive down a tree-lined street.  My office is on one of the most beautiful and perfectly groomed campuses in America, if not the world.  My students are intellectual and from impressive backgrounds.  In my day-to-day life, the world looks perfect.  It’s blissful, happy, cheerful and welcoming.  All is right.

I don’t come from this bubble world.  I come from a background where my dad worked seven days a week so that my family could make ends meet.  I come from a household where for the first fifteen years of my life, we lived in a tiny two bedroom duplex and all shared one bathroom.  I come from a life, where although my family did not have much financially, they always taught me to give to others.  Whether it be the extra couple of dollars in my wallet or my time, my parents both taught me that with a richness of spirit, I could live a good, happy life.

As I get deeper into this life and more opportunities come into it, I don’t want to lose that little girl whose circumstances drove her ambition.  I never want to become disconnected with my roots.  I never want to lose sight of the struggles that fueled me to succeed.

So, on Monday nights, I take a drive north.  I get out of Coral Gables and drive past my island home.  I go into Miami’s projects.  And I just cruise and cruise and take left turns and right turns.  I stare into faces and look at dilapidated houses.  And I see what so many others would probably describe as “bleak” as opportunity.

Neither of my parents hold a college degree.  Yet, with their limited educations, they steered me well through life.  They both realized that an education was the key to improving my future.  While they instilled the importance of an education in my mind, outside mentors largely helped steer the course I took from that point on.

While I credit my parents most for the success I’ve found in life, I would not be where I am today without the individuals who took an interest in my life and taught me how to be a leader.  These individuals range from my big sister in my sorority to my pastors at church and the student activities director at my undergraduate college to my sports law professor in law school.  The time and attention each of these individuals gave to me in ensuring that I was becoming the best I could be is why I have been able to accomplish what I have in my life.

On my drive today, I saw a handful of children presumably walking home from school.  As I looked at their surroundings, I wondered what dreams they have for their futures.  When your life is surrounded by chaos, poverty and despair, where do you look for hope?  How do you have a dream bigger than your situation when that is the portrait that is painted for your life?

If I had not been exposed to outside influences and a variety of people who outlined the options I had for my life, I do not know where I would be today.  When this realization hit me today, there was only one thing I could think of:  It is time for me to become that positive influence for somebody else.  While I am not an artist, I can help paint a brighter future for a child who could benefit from seeing the picture of her life depicted in another way.

One of my favorite quotes is the Chinese proverb that reads, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  For those of us with hectic schedules, it’s so easy to just write checks to organizations or attend galas and believe that we are making a difference.  While those efforts are commendable and help address issues, they are not the best when it comes to digging to the root of an issue.  To really address our society’s issues and problems, we must get down into the trenches and lend a hand.  We must teach those we want to inspire how to fish.  We must be leaders for our community’s young people and show them how to steer their lives down productive paths.  We must model to our young people the value of a life well lived and the importance of using platforms to serve others.

I’ve been putting off the opportunity I have to help young people outside of the university setting for too long.  So, today I made a move and applied to become a Big Sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami.  My goal in doing this, is to teach at least one young woman how to fish, and hopefully build a more positive future for her life.

In the summer of 2007, I interned at the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles.  CLCLA serves over 40,000 abused and neglected children in Los Angeles County.  Then, the waiting list for children to receive a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters was in the thousands.  My colleagues and I would often discuss how a particular child client’s life might be steered in a more positive direction if only they could be matched with a mentor.

Will you join me in stepping up and teaching a young person in your community how to fish?  Over the next ten days (through February 28), I will be hosting a Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer drive.  How many people in the #Sports4Good community are willing to teach a young person in their community to fish? How might a couple hours of your life each month improve the outlook of your community’s future?

To motivate you to apply to become a volunteer, I will be raffling off a $50 Visa gift card.  To be entered in the raffle, take a screen shot of your completed volunteer application and email it to me at RulingSports@gmail.com.  Every person who emails me a completed volunteer application by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 28, 2014 will be entered in a drawing for the gift card.  On March 1, 2014, one entrant will be selected at random as the winner.  This person will be notified by email.

So, are you going to sit on the shore or are you going to come out to the sea and teach someone to fish?  The choice is yours.

The Selfie Generation: What The Photography Trend Says About Millenials

February 10, 2014

I’ll admit it:  I snap selfies.  Often.

Recently, one of my sorority sisters wrote the following Facebook status:

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I’ve taken selfies everywhere from the car to the Super Bowl and the White House to the CNN newsroom.  With my broad selfie experience in tow, it was only with minor embarrassment that I answered my friend’s question:

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In that answer, though, lies a key takeaway about my millenial generation:  The moments we feel worthy of sharing with others aren’t necessarily the ones when we are surrounded by others, but ones of solitude.  We are a “me, myself and I” generation, whose boldest and brightest moments are oftentimes punctuated by lengths of time spent alone rather than surrounded by loved ones.  Work trips.  Soul seeking trips.  Designated alone time.  The millenial generation’s fascination with selfies is one that demonstrates the culture’s growing ability to separate itself from its surroundings and ignore the people around it.  Selfies proclaim, “Look at me” not “Look at what or who is around me.”  Selfies define my and my peers’ willingness to disconnect from everything around us in the growing age of connectivity.

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A selfie I snapped on the airplane en route to Miami to cover the 2014 NBA Finals.

Last fall, I spent a pleasantly warm South Beach afternoon lunching at Bianca at the Delano Hotel with fashion company, Peace Love World’s, founder Alina Villasante as I interviewed her for Forbes.  As we picked at the last pieces of grilled calamari on our table and pushed around the truffle tagliatelle on our plates, my interview wound down and our conversation quickly turned to my and her publicist’s single status.  As Alina’s publicist and I commiserated over dating stories gone terribly bad, Alina chimed in with some advice that was more so insight into our millenial generation.  Alina told us that our generation doesn’t pay attention to its surroundings.  We are so immersed in our iPhones, our next social media posts and our selfies, that we are out of tune with what’s going on around us.  It is that being out of tune, that for many of us, is the cause of our solitude, our singledom and our ultimate inability to connect on a deeper level with those around us.  To make her point, Alina turned over her left shoulder and quipped, “Look at that man over there!  How handsome is he?! I bet neither of you even noticed him when he walked in!”

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A selfie I snapped in my car. When it was dark outside. Whilst making a minor duck face. Completely normal. And so 2013.

She was right.  We hadn’t.  Neither of us had noticed the model-like man who was sitting mere feet away from us, at a table dining alone.  The point Alina had in all of this, was that as my generation is so immersed in itself, we are letting opportunities slip by.  And for the most part, those opportunities are good ones.  They are opportunities to connect, bond and feel something deeper.

After this conversation with Alina, I began wondering what opportunities I’m missing out on when I am so connected to my phone, social media and myself.  What person am I not meeting when I am immersed in these things?  What chances are passing me by as I devote my time to these things?  How am I not achieving what I am capable of when my attention is turned so deeply inward and into channels where people are not present in person, but online?  At the least, what kind of people might I be meeting if instead of snapping pictures of myself, I just hand my iPhone off to a stranger and ask him to take my picture?

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Who did I miss out on meeting by snapping this selfie at the White House?

In thinking about these questions, I realized that my generation has a problem.  The technological globalization of our world has allowed us to surpass communication boundaries in a way that no generation has before.  Yet, in the midst of that, we’ve forgotten how to connect with those around us.  Our ability to communicate with people thousands of miles away in the blink of an eye has stripped us of our ability to look at the handsome man at the table across from us and say, “Hello.”  As we reach for opportunities outside of our surroundings, we are forgetting how to connect with those closest to us.  The inability to connect with those nearest to us is the culprit for many of our loneliness, singledom and constant desire for something “more” with someone other than ourselves.

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In the CNN newsroom, getting ready to go on air. A selfie was necessary. Clearly.

Recognizing these things, what is a millenial to do?  Must the selfies stop?  Should the communication with those around the world cease?  Do we need to approach every attractive single man dining alone?  Obviously, the answer to all of those questions (save for maybe the last one, if you have enough cojones) is, “No.”

Rather, like many things, recognizing the connection problem that exists amongst the generation is the first step to addressing the problem.  If connecting on deep levels is the problem my generation is facing, then perhaps, we must disconnect Why don’t we make rules amongst friends to set the iPhones down while dining?  Why don’t we scan the room when we enter a restaurant or other public place to see if anyone catches our interest?  And if someone does, why don’t we make it a point then and there to connect?  And for all the single ladies, why don’t we make a pact to stop snapping selfies, and instead, start asking that handsome someone to snap your picture?  Only by disconnecting from ourselves–whether it be surfing the web on our iPhone, promoting ourselves via social media or capturing our God-given beauty through selfless–can we begin reconnecting with others.

Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2013 was “selfie.”  How much better might 2014 be, if the word of the year is “together”?  Put down your iPhone and start making it happen.

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