For many athletes, landing a spot on the roster of a professional team is the ultimate dream. However, the dream of making it in professional sports isn’t just for athletes. Jobs within professional sports organizations are highly sought after and limited in number. And with Baker University’s longstanding history of preparing students to hurdle any obstacle and tackle any issue, would it surprise you that these Wildcats are excelling in pro sports jobs? We didn’t think so.
Tera Lyons, ’14, former Wildcat cross country and track team member, is a year and a half into her tenure working at one of sports’ most legendary venues. As digital content coordinator for the Daytona International Speedway, Lyons puts to work the skills she learned pursuing a mass media degree by managing the Speedway website and social media accounts including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the recently launched Snapchat.
Before moving to Daytona, Lyons worked as a photography intern for the Kansas City Chiefs, a web production assistant for the Atlanta Falcons, and a web content and development contractor for [sports and entertainment company] AMB Group—all positions that were set up by her Baker experience.
“I’ve always had a love for sports, but going into college I wasn’t sure how to make that into a career. It wasn’t until I started my courses in the mass media department and started working as a photographer for the Baker Orange that I realized how much I loved being on the sidelines of football games. From then on, I always dreamed of working in the NFL. What you don’t realize is how small the sports industry is until you’re in it. It’s all interconnected and before working at Daytona International Speedway, I would never have pictured myself working around motorsports.
“Baker is really great at getting you started early and giving you real-world experiences that translate into a career. I started working on the Baker Orange my freshman year and by my sophomore year, I was an editor. I was able to create a portfolio of my work while working on the newspaper that caught the attention of the photographer of the Chiefs and had writing, graphic, and website design samples that I’ve used to apply for jobs throughout my career. I also gained valuable leadership experience through Greek life, clubs, and athletics that developed me into the person I am today. I also studied abroad at Harlaxton [College in England] and that opened my eyes to the world and gave me the confidence and independence to take advantage of opportunities wherever they may be. Baker University gave me all the building blocks I needed to get my career started.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky to find a position that I can grow into at Daytona International Speedway. I can see myself continuing to work in the motorsports industry, working my way up the ladder. I wouldn’t put moving back to the NFL out of my future, but there’s something to be said for the motorsports industry in that it gives you a little taste of everything. The Speedway doesn’t just have NASCAR; it has supercross, global rallycross, concerts, motorcycle racing, and so much more! One thing’s for sure:
Once you’re in the sports industry, it’s hard to ever picture leaving it.”
Ultimately, Lyons said, carving a career in sports is about passion.
“I’ve always said that I wouldn’t want to work at a job that I hated, and working in sports isn’t about the money, it’s about going to work every day to do something you love, which is exactly what I was looking for. No day looks the same.”
Which day has looked the most unique so far at the Speedway? Sometimes the obvious answer is right, according to Lyons.
“My most memorable moment working in professional sports so far was at my first Daytona 500. I’d been working at the Speedway for three months, but it wasn’t until I was standing in the infield before the race looking at a sold-out crowd in our brand new facility and hearing ‘Drivers, start your engines!’ for the first time in person that I realized just how lucky I was to be working at such an iconic venue. If you’ve never been to the Daytona 500, it’s difficult to understand just how large the facility is and how small it makes you feel, and I got to play a part in it all. Nothing has quite lived up to that moment.”
Since 2015, Jenna Brantley, ’11, has served as a national sales manager for Legends Global Sales, an industry service provider owned by the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, and Live Nation that works with sports and entertainment venues to develop unique partnership platforms for prospective brands, among other sport-related services. Brantley—an exercise science major and a member of the women’s basketball team during her time at Baker—manages a division that specializes in naming rights, sponsorship consulting, and sales execution.
From a young age, Brantley knew she wanted to be involved in sports in any kind of professional capacity, and her first break into the industry came shortly after she received her Baker diploma.
“After moving to New York City two days after graduating, I quickly faced major adversity. My position at Madison Square Garden was put on a hiring freeze due to an NBA lockout. After grinding it out for six long months, I started my career in a yearlong inside sales program, selling season tickets for the Knicks, Rangers, and Liberty. Inside sales programs are cutthroat. They hire 20 kids straight out of college and one or two will make it out alive and get promoted to account executive. I made the cut!
“The promotion put me in a position to pick my next move. After many interviews and tours, I accepted a role with the most valuable sports franchise in the world: the Dallas Cowboys! I continued to sell at a high level and lead the corporate hospitality sales team, which helped me land my current role.”
That role has made Brantley privy to many rare experiences, including one that particularly stands out in her memory.
“The Cowboys [sales team was] outsourced to provide additional firepower and sell Super Bowl 49 suites in New York City. This was not a paid incentive, instead [I received] an all-expense paid trip for two! I picked up my tickets from will call and somehow landed ROW ONE at the Super Bowl! I’ve yet to meet someone who sat row one at a Super Bowl!”
Although it’s hard to beat front-row Super Bowl tickets, meeting one of her sports heroes and role models tops her list of memorable moments.
“I’ve been fortunate to meet many athletes, actors, politicians, musicians, and so on. But, my favorite athlete is Kobe Bryant. Last year I was having breakfast with the Lakers’ equipment manager and, 20 minutes in, Kobe joined and I freaked! I’ve always idolized his work ethic and passion for the game.”
While she may have taken many lessons from Bryant’s professional devotion, Brantley says the lessons she learned at Baker helped prepare her for the working world.
“I think the students, professors, and coaches at Baker hold each other to such high standards. You’re ready to bring your A game to the next chapter in life.”
Brantley’s advice for current students who want to pursue a career like hers is simple.
“Share everything! You will never have enough time to sell to everyone, so if your method is working, help folks out! And take as many internships as possible! Experience coming out of school will set you apart.”
Jeff Diskin, ’92, is putting his English literature degree and high school teaching experience to use as coordinator of cultural development for the Kansas City Royals. Diskin prepares the team’s young Latin players for life in the United States by teaching English, character development, leadership skills, decision-making skills, and improving their baseball knowledge, and providing support once they reach the U.S.
“As a coach, I took my team to the Dominican Republic in 2008 and gained some exposure to its world of professional baseball. Most of the kids playing at MLB academies are high school aged, so the coaches were essentially working with kids who were the same age as the kids I coached. During fall of 2008, I sent a letter to Dayton Moore, whom I had never met, giving him a little bit of my background, and asked if I could go to their academy for a summer. While there, I helped the players with English classes at night while observing, taking notes, and helping out wherever I could during the baseball parts of the day. It was an incredible professional development opportunity. Fortunately, the Royals liked the idea, and I ended up spending parts of four summers there.”
Diskin was tabbed for his current position in 2012.
“Since I had already spent time at the academy, had grown to know many of the Latin players, and had an English-teaching and baseball background, the Royals thought I would be a natural fit. I began in June 2013.”
Then, he was part of the 2015 World Champions.
“Taking part in the championship parade when 800,000 fans packed the streets of K.C. was pretty memorable. As a Royals fan, that probably is my most memorable moment, but as an employee, my proudest moments [have to do with] the creation of our service projects in the Dominican Republic and the relationships we have developed and nurtured with an orphanage and a batey [a rural community that grows and harvests sugar cane]. The memories these relationships create are what life is all about. In that respect, Diskin personifies what it means to be a member of the Baker community.
“What I learned from my baseball coach, [former Athletic Director] Dan Harris, was to care about people. He truly cared about everybody he came into contact with and did things off the field—writing recommendation letters, submitting names for scholarships, and helping me years later with my career—that many people consider a hassle so they do not take the time to do it. He taught me to care for people and to go to bat for people, no pun intended.”
Diskin said he greatly admired his Spanish professor at Baker, Pablo LaRosa, who reconnected with him and further tutored him after he accepted the multicultural position with the Royals. Baker’s commitment to whole-person development and learning is something Diskin hopes to pass on to his players.
“We have really worked on developing a plan B program for [our] players. The numbers tell us that only 1 to 2 percent of the players at our academy will ever play in the big leagues, [so] we have to help them develop skills to use after their playing careers are over. Around 20 to 30 percent of our players have graduated high school and most have little or no other professional skills. Because of this, we have implemented a trade school, and we are working on enrolling some of our players in an online GED program,” he said. “We have also drastically increased the amount of service work that we do in the local communities. We sponsor an orphanage in Santo Domingo Este, where we’ve built playgrounds and donated clothes, toys, sporting equipment, and other necessary materials.”
While 2017 is still young, Diskin and his team have already worked with Royals Charities to donate $15,000 to a local Dominican Republic community in order to rebuild a baseball field where they hope to host youth clinics upon completion.
“The Royals are in the process of building a [Kansas City MLB] Urban Youth Academy that will serve the core of the city. The project is part of Major League Baseball’s goal to grow the game. There will be educational, vocational, and baseball components to the academy. My goal is to play an integral role in the development of the academy and to make the Royals’ academy—both in the classroom and on the field—the benchmark that other organizations will use.”
It’s clear that Diskin’s commitment to helping others continues to be the driving force in his career.
“The biggest part of my job is to help develop a whole person. Our organization strongly believes that players who have their lives in order off the field will perform much better on the field.”
At 6 feet 9 inches, Samer Jassar, ’13, towered over his basketball teammates and his other Baker classmates while earning a degree in business management, accounting, and economics. Now, having served as a basketball operations associate with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves since the fall of 2016, Jassar sets his sights on people who are, on average, closer to his height while assisting the organization’s front office in matters related to the NBA collective bargaining agreements, negotiations, strategic planning, scouting, and personnel decisions.
Jassar’s path to his current position started long ago and followed a natural progression from the hardwood to the front office.
“I was always inspired to be a professional athlete. I’ve played basketball for 15 years, and I was fortunate to compete against some of the best athletes in the world when playing with the Israeli national basketball team in four different FIBA (International Basketball Federation) campaigns. A few years ago, I decided to retire from playing basketball and pursue a career in professional sports.”
After his athletic retirement, Jassar earned his MBA and learned the agency side of professional sports.
“Before joining the Timberwolves, I spent a few years working for hall of fame sports agent Ron Shapiro at the Shapiro Negotiations Institute in Baltimore. Ron is currently representing Joe Mauer from the Minnesota Twins, and he has represented more hall of famers than any other agent: Cal Ripken Jr., Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Kirby Puckett. Also, SNI provides consulting services to NBA and NFL front offices. I had the fortune to learn from Ron and the group at SNI on matters related to negotiations, NBA and NFL collective bargaining agreements, front office challenges, and strategic planning.”
Working with Shapiro helped hone Jassar’s skills, but his full transition from player to pro was aided by what he picked up as a student in Baldwin City.
“Baker equipped me with the tools and habits to put myself in a position to succeed wherever I go after graduating.”
Having already helped an NBA client land a coveted free agent after two-plus years of planning, Jassar knows what his immediate future holds.
“[I want] to keep learning and working hard and to help the Timberwolves be a championship contender in years to come.”