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Advantage: Jock

Vivia Chen

October 14, 2010

Fotolia_1793486_XS Feeling excluded from the male power scene at work because you don't play golf, or can't remember whether the Raiders are a football or baseball team? Yeah, I've been there.

To the list of cultural advantages enjoyed by men, you can add the jock factor. It seems that there's a form of--dare I say this?--affirmative action for athletes in the corporate sector.

Apparently, star athletes--namely those who play in big-time college sports--often enjoy a big advantage in getting their foot in the door of some mighty institutions.

Reports Bloomberg Businessweek: "University of Pennsylvania defensive back Josh Powers may have a better opportunity than playing for college football's national championship: a six-figure Wall Street salary upon graduation." The article goes on to say that Powers "was able to use contacts on Penn's athletic board to land internships at two financial firms," where the starting salary for a new college grad is about $120,000.

Powers told Bloomberg: “I have a job opportunity that the top, top percentile of applicants would give their right arm to have . . . I've been blessed with a fantastic opportunity.”

Blessed indeed. I'm not saying Powers isn't deserving, but he does enjoy a special network that's rarely available to women. For starters, Penn’s athletic board has lots of bigwigs, like hedge-funder George Weiss and UBS Group Americas's chair and CEO, Robert Wolf. Penn coach Al Bagnoli calls them "our alumni mafia,” adding that “everyone looks out for one another. It’s a very close group.”

As someone with no athletic prowess (seriously, I couldn't tell you who played in the last Super Bowl if my life depended on it), I don't know beans about that world. But I do know that jocks get special passes. (Remember all those not-too-sharp football players in college who had to do a special "postgraduate" year--as in post-high school--before they showed up at freshman orientation?)

The world of finance seems more openly smitten with former athletes than the legal profession. That said, I do remember, from my law firm days, a former varsity football player getting plum assignments and lots of client exposure, even though he had failed the bar three times. As I recall, both male and female partners swooned over him. To be fair, he was quite personable and extremely good-looking. (He eventually quit law for investment banking.)

Is there a law firm mafia for former jocks? Would firms bend the rules for them, like being not so picky about their GPA or journal experience? Just asking.


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].

Photo: Fotolia


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@ Been Around.

Interesting that the only pairing you don't mention is whether female clients love male athletes. I'm confident that would be the # 1 love of all.

As Vivia mentioned in her article, the female partners swooned over the football player at her old law firm.

Thanks Rick for speaking out for those in touch with reality. The issue isn't whether female athletes exist -- it's whether employers care about their existence. Investment banks (and their sattlelite buisnesses like financial printers) love athletes because their male clients love althletes. The questions are whether male clients love female athletes the same way they love bro athletes or alternatively, do female clients love female athletes. If I had to bet on either of those questions, I'd go witht the "no" option. How about you?

Dirk - you gotta be kidding man. Your comments are disingenuous.

I was a former athlete-on-the-rise before an injury knocked me off the D1 route. I went to a D3 program instead and even in such a non-commercial environment, athletes were given some preferential treatment.

That continued after I graduated. Yes, recruiters liked that I went to a top university, but quite a few specifically pointed out my athletic background. When they found out I was "supposed" to go to a D1 program, that I had received scholarship offers despite my injury status, you could see the enthusiasm increase in nearly every case.

Lehman and Bear Stearns (ironically) were a couple of firms that made offers nearly on the spot. And remember - I was only at a D3 program.

You're absolutely correct that Title IX has helped women. But if you think that it equates to the same thing that Vivia is speaking about, you're having a laugh.

In reply to Dirk and Martin's comments: Title IX has been a great boost for female athletes, but I think few would dispute that the funding and prestige attached to men's sports are far greater. Check out Deborah Brake's book, Getting in the Game.

Dirk is exactly right, just because you are not an athlete does not mean that athletic social networks are cut off from women. Thanks to title IX, there are roughly the same amount of women than men in most collegiate athletic programs. While the sports may not be as highly visible, it is my experience that the alumni networks available to athletes are just as open to them.

Speaking of Ivy League athletes, the mafia, and favorable treatment, there is an article in the New York Times which just came out yesterday.

Apparently, a female former Yale high-jumper entered into a conspiracy to deceive clients and various authorities into believing that the hedge fund she was with was a female-owned business when in fact she was just a beard for a guy. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/business/19hedge.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&emc=eta1

Her clients were intending to discriminate against guys by hiring a female-owned firm.

BTW, Vivia. Plenty of women play golf, the biggest Raiders fan I ever knew in my life was a girl named Alison Soderberg, and 43.2 % of the NFL's fan base is female: http://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/article/3718

What other gender lies and distortions to you have for us?

Back in 2008, my firm hired a former Division I football player; while we were summer associates they took him to entertain clients--I spent most of the summer working on a (non-billable) 50-state survey. Though I have since left that firm for greener pastures, and a quick check of the website doesn't list him, I seem to remember he survived at least the first round of layoffs once the crisis began to hit.

Title IX has been the law for nearly 40 years, so there is no shortage of female former college athletes, so why would such a network be "rarely" available to women?

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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