By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Joshua Gordon, Founder of the Sports Conflict Institute and Sports Management Instructor at the University of Oregon. He is an alumnus of UMASS Amherst where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. He continued his schooling at UMASS Boston where he received his Master’s in Dispute Resolution. Finally, he finished his schooling with a Juris Doctor from Suffolk University Law School. He was gracious enough to offer up his time and insight about conflict management in sports, why mentors are crucial and why you must have meaningful relationships to effectively network.
For those of us who don’t know about the Sports Conflict Institute, can you tell us a little bit about the company and what your mission is? What was your motivation behind starting it?
It is a resource center and a consulting practice focusing on managing issues in sports. We primarily focus on intercollegiate and professional sports. Our mission is to provide access to key intellectual information and useful tools.
As the Founder of the Sports Conflict Institute, what is a normal day like for you? What are some of your day-to-day challenges?
The days are pretty varied. As a consultant, we will sometimes come in during crisis and do crisis management and try to figure out what is going on, what needs to happen and who needs to be engaging in helping figure out the problem.
Our expertise is sustainable solutions, so that is what we are always striving to create a solution that lasts for all the people involved.
Being able to come in as a neutral helps us help the institutions and teams better than it would be if schools had their own conflict management group.
As a professor of Sports Management at the University of Oregon, what is a normal day like? What are some of the challenges? What do you like most about it?
That’s my playtime. I love being able to teach both undergrads and graduate students facts and information about the sports industry in a slightly non-traditional way. I always preach to my students that you have to understand how we got and how the industry got to where they are today.
I try to bring a lot of my industry peers in, so we will use Skype a lot and have some heavy hitting guest speakers in.
What drew you to being a part of the sports industry?
I’m a lifelong athlete. I was a collegiate runner and I played Baseball in high school. After being fairly high up in the field of conflict management, I started to shift to take on more and more sports related cases. I then transitioned into a role where that was my full time focus at the University of Oregon and then launched the Sports Conflict Institute as well.
What’s the highlight of your career to this point?
I think I’d have to say being able to spend time with former commissioner of the NBA David Stern during the last lockout. It was great to be able to talk with him about everything that was going on and where the sticking points where at in the negotiation process.
What do you like best about working in sports?
With any career it is important to be passionate about the context that you’re working in. You know how passionate you are about something when it is what you do in your free time. So next time you want to know what you like the most, look at what you do in your free time.
How important is networking in your eyes?
It’s very important, but there is a balance between talking to a bunch of people and building meaningful relationships. Relationships are key. Always figure out how you can be useful and helpful to someone else.
If you’re going into an internship, you need to have a lot more questions about what that organization needs and a lot less information about why you’re so impressive.
What are some tips you have for people who want to be successful in the sports industry?
Language skills are important. International markets are the emerging markets and that’s where all the opportunity is. You must write immaculately be able to speak well and have good analytic skills. Be extremely hardworking reliable and dependable. Find a niche!
What is the best career advice you have been given so far?
It’s important to remember that everyone you meet is someone who could be with you for a very long time. People aren’t disposable; they are your biggest assets. You must keep relationships strong and not just focus on getting new connections.
Did you have a mentor in the sports industry when you started out? Why and who?
One of my mentors coming up in the industry was Rudy Chapa, a former high-level executive at Nike and inventor of the SPARQ program. He has been a great guy to help me figure out the value in what we do and find things for the Sports Conflict Institute that aren’t as valuable. Another person is Leigh Steinberg and he has just been a great person to bounce ideas off of and get feedback.