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Schools help athletes find work after sports

Posted: April 15, 2010 12:25 p.m.
Updated: April 16, 2010 12:09 p.m.
 
Columbia, Missouri (AP) -- Former Missouri defensive tackle Joe Andrew Maples doesn't plan to watch next week's NFL draft. The May graduate is too busy trying to find work as he prepares for life after sports.

"I need a job," said Maples, who saw limited playing time in an injury-plagued career for the Tigers. So, too, do a host of gymnasts, swimmers, wrestlers, runners and other varsity athletes at Missouri.

About 150 of them, Maple included, showed up recently for their athletic department's annual career fair.
Like other NCAA schools, Missouri has a team of employees dedicated to enhancing its athletes' "life skills," from academic tutors to community service organizers. For a growing number of Division I institutions, that also means helping players find jobs.

Career placement for athletes has even become a cottage industry, with schools such as Clemson, Kentucky, Ohio State and Oregon hiring private companies like careerathletes.com that specialize in connecting athletes with job leads.

"This is my sole focus," said Kim Martin, a former Missouri swimmer who is now the school's assistant athletics director for life skills. "I understand what their days are like, what their time demands are, what unique traits they possess."

Corporate recruiters who target athletes say they don't mind that many of the prospective hires can't boast of prestigious internships or a succession of summer jobs.

They instead look for the intangible qualities - leadership, sacrifice, time management, a willingness to take criticism, that can translate from success on the field to success in the workplace.

"If you're an athlete, you're a pretty competitive person," said Jeffery Seeburger, a Mass Mutual Financial Group recruiting director. "In our business, you have to have that mindset."

Athletes accustomed to the spotlight tend to do well in careers that require the personal touch, Seeburger and other recruiters said, from real estate and finance to pharmaceutical sales and investment banking. Their name recognition alone can mean an office invite instead of a slammed door.

Former Missouri wide receiver Brad Ekwerekwu, now a graduate student and special assistant to athletics director Mike Alden, played with 10 future NFL players. Yet he's just as quick to name the former teammates who have done well in the corporate world.
"Athletics is the avenue to get your name and face out there," he said. "It's your foot in the door."

The "Tigers for Tomorrow" career development program starts with first-year athletes researching potential majors and learning how to write a basic resume. They can later participate in mock interviews, etiquette dinners and alumni network events.

The program's motto is "transitioning elite student athletes into successful professionals."

"We're here to serve our athletes for the four and five years they're here, plus beyond," Martin said.

Such service is sorely needed in top-tier college sports, suggested Oregon State English professor Michael Oriard, a former Notre Dame football player and vocal critic of athletic excesses on campus.

"Universities have a moral obligation to their athletes," he said. "This sounds like a good-faith effort to make sure these athletes really benefit from their scholarships."

Career development offices are a staple in most academic departments, from law and business to journalism and social work.

The roughly 500 Missouri athletes receive far more individualized care than the 8,000 students who visit the campus career center in person or online each year, acknowledged the center's assistant director Craig Benson.

But given their service to the school, that extra attention is deserved, he said.

"These are students who are asked to do a lot more than the typical student," Benson said. "The idea of providing more convenient service makes a lot of sense."

Maples, a highly touted junior college transfer from northern Alabama, who arrived at Missouri in 2007, said that Martin's office should be a mandatory stop in the school's athletics training complex, as much a part of the routine as lifting weights or hitting the food line.

The 310-pound Maples hasn't completely abandoned the idea of a career dependent on athletic skills. He talks of becoming a professional wrestler. But at the job fair he visited recruiters from Aflac, Kraft Foods, Sherwin Williams and other corporations.

"I think all freshmen should be a part of this," he said. "Get them ready, so it won't be a smack in the face when they're a senior."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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