Reunions: Walters '67 moderates panel of former University athletes
On Saturday morning of Reunions weekend, a group of Princeton athletes and fans past and present gathered to hear about the ideals of Princeton athletics, and about how student-athletes have learned to apply the lessons from the athletic fields to the business world.
Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67, who moderated the event, commented that the morning's heat was appropriate, because “one, athletes sweat. And two, it has been said that athletics are the sweatiest of the liberal arts.”
The panel was titled “The Post-Game Show: Putting the Values of Princeton Athletics into Practice” and featured alumni athletes discussing how their student-athlete experiences have shaped their success in their post-college endeavors.
Panelists included Bert Kerstetter ’66, a former Princeton football player and now chief executive of Calico Quarters, Stephen Mills ’81, a former basketball player and now CEO and partner of the Athletes & Entertainers Wealth Management Group, Karen Konigsberg ’86, former member of the field hockey, basketball, and softball teams and now federal prosecutor, Joe Baker ’91, former football player and now assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Ross Tucker ’01, a former Princeton and professional football player, now CEO of a start-up company.
The members of the panel had the opportunity to share with the audience their thoughts on how the student-athlete experience led them to their success as post-graduates. The panel addressed a few common themes, including identity, humility, resiliency and versatility.
Kersetter began, discussing how athletics can help create one's identity and the idea that athletes are a part of something bigger than the individual. “It is axiomatic that everyone asks the question, 'Who am I?' Freshman year you ask, 'What am I worth?' And the really sad question, 'Am I worth anything?’ ” he said. “Athletics can fill the essential need to be a part of something bigger than yourself.” He said that this relates to the business world, because, in times of stress, “you have the ability to go back to a group that has a common interest.” Student-athletes can know their identity by learning the source of their roots, he said.
Baker agreed that a major part of athletics is becoming a part of something big — either a big team or a big and important cause. He knew he wanted to play football to become a part of a family. After college, Baker and his fellow football players began a charity called Play Smart to help thousands of children through the “intuitive idea that sports are good for kids.” Based on his experiences recruiting in underprivileged and dangerous neighborhoods, Baker acknowledged that sports can be “the difference between life and death” for some people. “These kids don’t have many choices in life. Sports were such a powerful thing for all the personal reasons that the great affect they have on society,” he said.
Konigsberg also addressed the idea of identity and how her changing roles on three different teams has served her well in adjusting to different situations in court. She became accustomed to transitioning from a defensive player on the field hockey team to a play-maker on the basketball court, which is a skill she said she has used when transitioning between projects, and also changing positions in the work place. “I have to work with different personalities,” she said. “I once worked with a judge who can be hard on people, but working with different coaches taught me how to read people.”
Resiliency was another common theme that the former athletes discussed, both after defeat and after discovering that they were not necessarily the best at what they were doing. Kerstetter described this as athletics teaching humility. He said that at Princeton, students can develop a concept of “exceptionalism,” which can be dangerous. “In athletics, you will learn that you are not the best ... Sooner or later, you will meet someone better than you. The important part is how you respond to that,” he said.
Tucker agreed, citing the fact that his football team at Princeton was “never very good.” As a professional football player, Tucker was cut from four teams and traded once, times when he had to overcome adversity. He said that athletics taught him to not dwell on the negative sides of life. “What do you do in sports? You lose to Harvard and you’re devastated, and the next day you come in to work on Cornell. It doesn’t allow you to dwell on the negative or put time into destructive purposes,” he said.
In overcoming adversity, athletes are taught to continuously push their limits, the panelists said. Mills noted that he grew up in a tough environment and was never sure that he belonged at Princeton. “I came to a place where I was around exceptional people in the classroom and on the field, and we understood how we needed to grow," he said. "You are so gifted to be an athlete because you get to push your limits ... When you harness your capacity to push beyond normal limits that normal people face and apply it to business, you have the opportunity to be successful.”
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