Athletes are more than Athletes

David Kalema, Amherst College '14

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“IF FOR SOME REASON...

circumstances forbid you from playing basketball, where will you be happy?” That was the last question my mom asked me in our final discussion on which college would be best for me. She didn’t want me to envision my college experience solely as an athletic one. Years afterward, she admitted that she never actually wanted me to consider not playing, she just wanted me to think about who I could be as a person without the game in my life. Years after graduating from Amherst College, that question had an impact on me. Here’s how.  

It was Thursday April 4th, 2013 and the team had flown into Atlanta to play for a Division III National Championship. Because it was the 75th Anniversary of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the NCAA hosted the championship games of all three divisions at the site of the Division I Final Four. Instead of playing at the Salem Civic Center, which hosts the DIII Final Four every year, I was three days away from playing in Phillips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks. Surrounded by legendary coaches like Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim, I couldn’t help reveling in the buzz created by the 18-22 year olds that were on display that weekend. This buzz extended to police escorted bus rides and media attention. More importantly, it opened my eyes.

This was just a small snapshot into our lives as student-athletes. A week later, we would all be outside the buzz, back on our separate campuses and in classes. Throughout that weekend I kept wondering where all of us student-athletes were going to be years from now when a buzz like this no longer followed us. Did the buzz in fact allow us to think consciously about our identities outside of sports? The buzz was not always as big as the Final Four, but each campus and athletic community had its own. Wondering what effect living in the buzz had on our futures, I returned from Atlanta a National Champion and turned those questions into a senior thesis.

I spent my senior year researching how the economics and business of NCAA athletics affected the future outcomes of student-athletes. I interviewed former college athletes and studied how their experiences as student-athletes affected the development of their careers. As a black student-athlete, I was personally interested in learning from the plethora of black athletes who played college sports and transitioned to their careers. Having read about the over-representation of black athletes in certain sports, I wanted to learn where athletes ended up after the media no longer celebrated their athletic efforts.

Through my interviews, I found that former college athletes, regardless of background, had stories that aren’t often told or promoted. These former student-athletes were teaching, working for shoe companies, thriving in tech, holding government positions and running businesses. Others were still figuring out next steps and spoke at lengths about what they wish they would have done differently in college. While my thesis focused more on revenue generating high profile college sports, the conversations I had exposed me to the differences and similarities in my own experience at Amherst College. On the one hand, we all had to juggle athletics with academics and time management served as the glue that allowed us to make it work. Like others, I constantly felt I had to prove that I belonged socially and in the classroom. Overall, I learned that the buzz of playing college sports offered a sense of purpose for athletes, but also made it difficult to figure out what they could be as passionate about when the buzz died down.

In my three years since graduating from Amherst, I feel lucky to have found two jobs that exposed me to entrepreneurship, my new passion. At Endeavor, I get to work directly with high-growth, high-impact entrepreneurs across 30 countries and help them access mentorship, talent and capital. Three years ago I didn’t know this type of work was an option for me. Thinking back to my mom’s question, I didn’t really know who I could be without basketball until I went out in the world. It was working on my thesis that initially showed me I had no clue where players from my program ended up or how they transitioned to their careers. And there were decades of players before me who faced similar challenges balancing school and sports while figuring out who they were going to be next. There was a lot I could have learned from their journeys.

 Me talking to entrepreneurs at Endeavor's 71st International Selection Panel in London. 

Me talking to entrepreneurs at Endeavor's 71st International Selection Panel in London. 

Athletes are more than athletes. They are individuals who go on to lead in every field and industry, taking with them qualities and transferable skills that were nurtured through team sports. This is why I’m starting The Coin Flyp. I believe it’s worth exploring the other side of collegiate sports to learn how it is more of a career development tool and not just an activity, hobby or entertainment. There are approximately 450,000 student athletes competing every year across three divisions at more than 1,000 schools. For the 98% who do not become professional athletes, what are their journeys like and where is college athletics taking them after the buzz dies down? The Coin Flyp is a career exploration platform for student-athletes that seeks to answer these questions.

Ultimately, you’ll never know what’s possible unless you take a chance to find out. 

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David is the founder of The Coin Flyp. He graduated cum laude from Amherst College with a B.A. in Sociology. At Amherst, David was a senior captain and four year member of the men's basketball team. After graduation, David ran an entrepreneurship accelerator program out of Emory University's Goizueta Business School and is now the Education Portfolio Manager at Endeavor, an organization that selects, supports and invests in emerging market scale-ups. 

If you're interested in entrepreneurship or are a former or current student-athlete interested in contributing to The Coin Flyp, connect with David via LinkedIn or dkk@thecoinflyp.com.