Today’s guest columnist is Jeffrey Alan Henderson, the founder of And Them Creative, a design and content agency based in Harlem, and co-chair of the advisory board for the Business of Sports School in New York City.
The headquarters of every major sports league, and dozens of other important sports organizations, are in New York City. Conversations around salaries and stadiums, contracts and careers, GMs and VPs all run through Midtown Manhattan. This industry’s estimated global revenue of $500 billion offers more than a few career opportunities in the business of sports.
A few blocks away from this epicenter of sports business sits the old Graphics Campus High School in Hell’s Kitchen. In those old Graphics days, most conversations around college readiness and careers in sports franchise front offices were fairy tales. The school was an example of a failing educational system that neglected to give students opportunities that could lead them to that epicenter of sports business a few blocks away.
But today, those opportunities are literally what the students of the Business of Sports School—BOSS—see on a daily basis. The students at BOSS are supported by an amazing faculty of educators, counselors and staff focused on providing the best STEM education available. Dr. Joshua Solomon’s team balances scholastic data with real-world empathy.
An Extra Set of Hands
Dr. Solomon’s faculty is supported by an advisory team that feels like a Fortune 500 roster. Industry leaders with day jobs at the NFL, NBA, MLS, Snapchat, Columbia University and ESPN volunteer their time to individually mentor students and drive school-wide initiatives.
Imagine having a school where the weekly in-school speaker series is hosted by two-time Super Bowl Champ Jonathan Casillas. Imagine having your school’s workplace tours program run by execs at SNY and Perkins Eastman. Imagine Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Adam Silver at the ribbon-cutting of your NBA-built gym, or a class tour of the MLB headquarters. Imagine having your school uniforms designed by a former Nike and Yeezy designer with photoshoots at Madison Square Garden. You don’t have to imagine it. BOSS is that school.
Accessibility to the places and people who drive the sports industry inspires these young men and women to reach beyond their predicted track. Standardized test scores and zip codes aren’t the only data points that determine trajectory. People opening doors and providing exposure are crucial factors in future stars.
Through the iMentor program, all 400-plus BOSS students are individually paired with a mentor for their four-year academic career. For many of these students, their BOSS mentors—many from the sports industry—are their sole connection with someone who has college experience. They lean on their mentors’ experience in navigating a world—one filled with interviews and applications—that many of us saw as a standard rite of passage.
Education is a Two-Way Street
The diversity of the 12-member business advisory board and 12-member junior advisory board allows this school of mostly Black and Brown high school students to meet relatable sporting industry role models before they have to make a decision about college—not about declaring a major, but about whether they should consider attending college at all.
This diversity works both ways.
For some of the advisory board’s members, connecting with the often immigrant, often Muslim, often Spanish-as-primary-language, often underserved, often misunderstood community of students and their families is a new experience. Imagine not having these experiences before interviewing candidates from a population that is highly underrepresented in your industry. Imagine not developing the social skills to connect with the talent that fuels leagues and drives culture.
Books and movies are great introductions to the reality that many Black and Brown people face in America and beyond. But getting to know the system of hurdles and walls and ceilings through the eyes of a 15-year-old with no agenda aside from growing up will affect how you hire and mentor and lead. Walking a college-bound high school senior through college applications while that student is dealing with multiple trials and civil unrest can be eye-opening. Now imagine playing an 82-game season or presenting a $3 million Series A while going through the same things.
All in all, I’m happy I’m able to work with an unbelievably dedicated group of professionals—on the board and in the classroom. The metal detectors from the old Graphics days are gone, so the students feel more like students. And thanks to all of this, the future of the sports industry will feel more like BOSS. If you’re interested in helping shape our future bosses, go to www.nycboss.org for more information.
After earning an engineering degree from Purdue/Georgia Tech and spending 15+ years in Nike Design in Beaverton, Tokyo and NYC, Henderson tackled projects like Yeezy, Everlane and FC Harlem through the creative agency And Them while building his own sneaker line—NinetyNine Products—and an art/design driven AirBNB in Harlem. More of his writing on design, diversity and sneakers can be found on www.GoodThin.gs.