Money Smart Athlete Blog

Professional athletes as leaders in everyday life

By Constantinos Massonos, Contributor

Leadership is a term associated with acts of bravery which can lead to world-level changes, making it appear as something huge, a bit scary, and out of reach for ordinary people and as something that must be earned. But contrary to popular belief, leadership is part of human nature and is evident in almost every aspect of our lives.

Leaders are people who we look up to, follow and respect and can influence and maximize the efforts of other people towards the achievement of a common goal. In sports, athletes who might not be topping the statistics in points, goals or assists but exhibit great leadership attributes and can lead their teammates to titles and awards, by being the “heart” of their teams, are greatly valued by fans.

Iconic athletes such as Michael Jordan in basketball, Derek Jetter in baseball, Tom Brady in football and Paolo Maldini in soccer have not only exhibited incredible desire, determination and will to win but have inspired their teammates to follow and fight alongside them towards achieving their goal. These rare leadership traits that athlete-leaders possess, are not confined in the field of play but can ripple out far wider beyond sports and in everyday life.

There are so many great players that didn’t have any impact beyond their sport and then there are athletes such as baseball player Pete Frates, who without a very notable professional career became a leading force for change. Frates graduated in 2007 from Boston College with a degree in Communication and was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)—a disease that has no treatment or cure— in 2012.

In 2014, he did what many great leaders do, communicated his inspiring vision to raise awareness for his disease by promoting the Ice Bucket challenge through social media. His attempt went viral leading to many mega-celebrities to accept the challenge, increasing awareness for the disease and raising more than $220 million for the ALS Association compared to $2.8 million raised by the organization the year before. Sadly, Frates passed away in 2019 but his legacy will hopefully inspire many more in the years to come.

Leadership can bring glamour and fame but many times is filled with doubt, struggle and uncharted paths with an unknown outcome. A few years before the recent refusal of professional athletes to play games in order to protest social injustice, an NFL player, Colin Kaepernick risked his income, reputation and career in order to lead the way into protesting against police brutality and social injustice ‘taking the knee’ during the American national anthem before an NFL game in 2016. His courageous action inspired a whole movement leading more professional athletes to follow his example and protest in the same way.

Life can place us all in a position of leadership whether we like it or not. At home, or at work, people might look up to us for guidance and advice. Professional athletes with proven leadership skills, inside or outside the field of play, can be an inspiration and motivation for all of us to become better leaders and we are looking for more role model examples to follow.