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Hilliard: “Do you think leaders are born or are they made?”

Carley Crain

“Do you think leaders are born or are they made?”

When people think of leaders in society, many different ideas come to mind. Government officials, entrepreneurs, teachers, etc. Professional athletes, however, hold a kind of leadership position that can be revolutionary; a type of leadership role that can change society as a whole.

Dr. Janice L. Hilliard, the former Vice President of Player Development for the National Basketball Association (NBA) gave her presentation, “Athletes, Leadership, and Social Responsibility: Where We Come From, Where We Are, and Where We are Going” to members of the Springfield College community on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the Marsh Memorial Chapel.

Her lecture is part of the “Humanics Triathlon,” led by Judy L. Van Raalte, the distinguished Professor of Humanics for this academic year at Springfield College.

Hilliard has spent her entire career working in the sports industry – from playing basketball at the Division I level, to working at numerous universities, to creating her own consulting business, Hilliard has done it all.

Her business, Hilliard Creative Education and Development Solutions, guides athletes though their athletic endeavors and educates them on other career opportunities, such as entrepreneurship, marketing and business. Hilliard has worked with many professional athletes and organizations promoting social responsibility and service.

“It is more than outstanding physical performance, but intelligence, guided by mind, spirit, and purpose,” Hilliard said.

Growing up in the 1960’s, Hilliard looked up to notable athletes such as Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Sandy Koufax. These athletes were phenomenal on the field as they all broke numerous records, won championships, and were the best of the time in their respective sports.

However, what they did off the field sparked societal-wide conversations regarding cultural, economic, and social problems. Hilliard used these professional athletes as examples to speak about the power and obligation athletes hold to spread awareness on societal wide issues such as police brutality, equal pay, and racism.

“Athletes have the influence as leaders because they are adored by their fans, they are the best in the world at what they do and they are marketed by representatives, organizations, and companies and are socially engaged and reliable to their audiences,” Hilliard said. “Athletes recognize the platform that they have known more than ever and they are becoming more and more equipped to take advantage of this,” she added.

In recent years, athletes are continuing to make a difference on and off the field. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kapernick began a movement regarding police brutality, and would kneel during the national anthem.

Megan Rapinoe and the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) are currently suing their federation regarding equal pay. Athletes in today’s society are committed to making a difference in their communities and are spreading awareness on social issues.

Hilliard spoke about how these athletes are making societal statements – and how they are influencing government officials, laws and policies. Social media has been a platform for athletes to engage their audience and create conversation about social problems.

Lebron James, for example, has 89 million Instagram followers, compared to the NBA’s Instagram, which has only 39 million. Individual athletes are starting to make more of an impact than an entire professional organization.

“It was really interesting how Dr. Hilliard transitioned from the history of the sport to the future of the sport and how all of the greatest leaders have shared the same skill sets,” Springfield College student Taylor Low said.

Hilliard continued to speak about professional athlete’s commitment to service. Athletes like LeBron James and Colin Kapernick have their own foundations supporting youth in urban areas. Not only are these athletes making a statement on the field, but they are making an impact off the field and in their communities.

Professional sports careers for athletes are relatively short since their bodies can only be at peak performance for so long. Hilliard provided shocking statistics about “life spans” for elite athletes, such as how three years is the average time spent in the National Football League (NFL).

Since their athletic careers are so short, Hilliard has spent her entire career emphasizing education and academics for students, athletes, and coaches. Many students leave college early to go professional without a degree.

Hilliard’s business promotes education among athletes and educates them on post-professional career opportunities. Athletes such as Tom Brady, David Beckham, and Julian Edelman have translated their on-field skills to other career paths, such as entrepreneurship, writing, and marketing.

Wrapping up her presentation, Hilliard spoke about the future of the sports industry, and how she hopes for women to hold more front office positions, increased developments in career coaching, and more emphasis on education regarding collegiate athletes.

Hilliard continues to make an impact on the sports industry, and has created an important conversation regarding education for professional athletes.

Photo Courtesy Springfield College Marketing & Communications

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