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Pro-Level Athletes Highlight Panel At Inaugural Sports Business Conference

Penn State kicked off its inaugural Sports Business Conference Thursday night at Beaver Stadium with a panel featuring athletes from the past and present.

Penn State football alumnus Jason Cabinda, former Olympic-level skier Stefanie Crosby, and retired NBA big man Etan Thomas all spoke on the panel, which focused on challenges presented to athletes following the end of their sports careers. John Gilmore — also a Penn State football alumnus — moderated the panel.

The four speakers each took very different paths to where they are today. Gilmore and Thomas both enjoyed successful careers in the NFL and NBA, respectively, but struggled to adjust to “normal” life following their retirements from professional sports. Crosby’s life completely changed when, at just 21, she suffered a career-ending leg injury while competing at the Olympic trials for her home country of Canada. Cabinda is currently making the transition from amateur to professional athlete as he prepares for the 2018 NFL Draft after playing for Penn State for four seasons.

Jason Cabinda was a four-year letterman at Penn State and anchored the team’s defense as it won a Big Ten championship and this past year’s Fiesta Bowl. Cabinda said he took four core values away from his time as a Nittany Lion: having a positive attitude, a tireless work ethic, a willingness to sacrifice, and a competitive mindset in everything he does.

He spoke about the transition he’s currently undergoing as he becomes a professional athlete in the NFL. Cabinda stressed that having a passion for anything requires a tremendous amount of commitment from himself, a message that stretches far beyond the gridiron for him.

“You’re not going make it if you don’t have a passion for what you do,” he said. “How are you going to wake up at 5 a.m. and go to sleep at midnight every day to do something without having a passion for it?”

Cabinda, an economics major, said that conversations he’s had with ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit may inspire him to take up a career in becoming a football analyst. He, like the other panelists, stressed the importance of following your passion, even if it is completely irrelevant to your college major.

Etan Thomas’ NBA career lasted for eleven seasons. He played with several NBA greats during his career, including Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook, but he had to transition away from basketball following the end of his career in 2011. Thomas always had a passion for social activism and is a civil rights activist; he used, and still uses, the platform he had as an NBA player in his post-basketball life. He was prepared for the end of his basketball career because he took the time to prepare in the final few seasons of his professional career.

“I started planning [for life after basketball] while I was still playing,” Thomas said. “Eventually, there comes a time when the ball stops bouncing. You finish playing in your 30s. There’s still a lot of your life to live after that.”

Thomas has written four books, including a book of poems released during his NBA career in 2004. His most recent book, We Matter: Athletes And Activism, focuses on how important it is for professional athletes to use their platform to stand up for what they believe in. This is a theme that Thomas discussed a lot throughout the panel; he believes that athletes’ activism has a profound impact on kids who grow up idolizing professional athletes.

Stefanie Crosby’s potential Olympic skiing career came to a tragic and abrupt end when she was just 21 years old. Crosby crashed out during an Olympic trial run and severely injured her leg and would never ski again. She struggled for a short time after the accident, but eventually found her passion working at Morgan Stanley.

Crosby now works with several athletes and advises them on how to manage their finances in order to prepare for a life after sports. She admitted to not liking math as a student, but connecting sports to math changed her perspective on the field and allowed her to earn her MBA.

“I had no money, I had nothing planned, and I didn’t like school,” Crosby joked during the panel.

Crosby stressed the importance of teaching athletes financial literacy and stressed that the best way to do this is to educate them. As she noted, many athletes end up struggling following their professional careers because they simply don’t know what they’re doing with their money.

The Sports Business Conference continues Friday with more networking, breakout sessions, and a keynote address from Kim Pegula.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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