Athlete Connections Launches an Innovative Tool to Increase Student-Athletes Long-Term Success
ORLANDO, Fla. – Athlete Connections, announces the launch of its Online Career Center, an innovative online system designed to assist current and former student-athletes in the transition from athletics to the workforce.
The new OnlineCareerCenterat www.athleteconnections.com was designed exclusively for student-athletes and provides access to all the tools and resources necessary to give them the upper hand in their job search once their playing career is over. Student-athletes will be able to create a personal account, upload their resumes, search through the many job postings and apply for jobs. At the same time, employers will have an opportunity to post jobs, search the resume database and directly contact candidates.
Former Gator Gives Chance to Student-Athletes After College
His basketball career was winding down when he came up with the idea. A torn Achilles pushed it into overdrive.
Today, Dan Cross is trying to help a group of people who many assume need no help – former athletes struggling to find a way to assimilate in society.
“It’s not some experiment,” Cross said. “It’s life. I’m just trying to help a lot of people.”
Cross is in the middle of his own experience of dealing with a new world. After starring at Florida and leading the 1994 Gator team to the Final Four, he has played some professional basketball, most recently in Israel where he suffered the injury.
While rehabbing, he has accelerated his plan to form a company that will help former student-athletes. The Web site – AthleteConnections.com – is up and running. Former college athletes can log on and answer a few questions to get the ball rolling.
The schools around America and the NCAA preach that they care about student-athletes, but how many are forgotten as soon as their eligibility has run out? There are plenty of success stories, but there are also the former players working as janitors because they have no guidance or connections.
“I know how hard the transition can be,” Cross said. “There are so many people who have come through a school like Florida and have had success in business. Why not connect them with the athletes who played at their schools?
“The same support they showed them when they were playing, they can show them now. I’m just trying to put people together. I’m going to work with athletes who played professional sports, but this is really for the 98 percent who did not.
Cross is starting with Florida athletes and Florida alumni, but plans to expand the idea and his non-profit organization throughout the country.
Connecting people with a common fight song can be as simple as making one phone call or bumping into the right guy at a golf course. Part of Cross’ plan is to get around and do plenty of networking.
Cross, who lives in Orlando, spent the last two weekends in Gainesville. Two weeks ago, it was to be inducted into the UF Hall of Fame. Last weekend, it was Danny Wuerffel’s golf tournament. In both cases, there was a lot of glad-handing.
“I enjoy being around people and meeting people,” he said. “I want to try to help as many people as I can. As my career was coming to an end, I started thinking about what I could do that I would enjoy for the rest of my life.”
He understands what can happen when the cheering stops.
He has experienced it and has friends who have been through it.
“A lot of emotions take place,” Cross said. “One of them being depression. You put so much time into one thing and when it ends if you can’t find out what you want to do next, there is a lot of anxiety. It can affect your family. It can affect your relationships, your children.
“What does an athlete do when his career is over? A lot of my friends have gone through those same emotions.”
The Web site survey asks for a player’s thoughts about which emotions he or she has had to deal with.
“If I can help just by simply connecting an athlete to someone in a certain field that can help, well, that’s what I want to do,” Cross said. “The career of an athlete doesn’t last that long. The University of Florida is my foundation that helped me reach my goals. The Gator Nation is very powerful. I just want to make it work for everybody.”
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Daniel Cross – Champion
He has lived that ragged fall himself, discovering the empty gap between cheering crowds and the silent after burn of a sports career. Rather than succumbing to bitterness, he’s taken up the banner for yesterday’s forgotten heroes.
Daniel is founder and CEO of Athlete Connections, a non-profit organization that helps “athletes complete their career,” as Daniel puts it. “There are no failed athletes,” he tells me. “Just to be able to play basketball, baseball or any sport at the college level defies all the odds. Take basketball, for instance. Less than 3% of all students can make the claim to have played in NCAA sports; of those, barely 1% goes professional. That’s 44 players out of 60,000 who play NBA ball.
To even get close to that is the best kind of success.” With all their focus on being part of that 1%, and the adulation they receive along the way, when their last game is played, entering the “real world” is the greatest challenge student athletes face. Daniel and his organization want to be there for them.
He comes by his sense of responsibility honestly; Daniel is the oldest of five kids raised in humble circumstances in Carbondale, Illinois. As he tells me his story, it’s clear he has mined it for every lesson he could find. His intelligence is without question, so it surprised me when he said he didn’t get high marks in school, especially when he told me his father was both teacher and pastor. “I didn’t want good grades; I didn’t see the importance of school, not until I found out to play basketball I had to do well in class.”
That was a foreign concept to my middle-class mind so I asked him to explain further. What kind of life had he looked forward to while in school? “I didn’t look forward. There were no professionals in my neighborhood. All my friends’ parents were in survival mode, living hand to mouth. It’s hard to see outside the box. I didn’t see it, so I couldn’t dream it. I didn’t see any of my people on TV that were successful… except for the Cosby Show.” A grin spread across his face. “What I learned from that show was to marry a lady lawyer… and I did.” In the dining room, his beautiful wife, the lady lawyer, was playing with their two kids. Athletics made all this possible. “That was something you did see on TV, pro athletes, so that’s what we aspired to.”
And not just basketball. As Daniel told me about his fledgling sports career, he couched it in transferable skills, like a good CEO. “Soccer that developed footwork and speed; baseball which developed hand-eye coordination… I played them all, encouraged by my father. He was a high school teacher, so he knew who was doing drugs, who was dealing, who I needed to stay away from… and a lot of them were my friends. Sports were a good way to keep me busy, and it gave me something to aspire to. Give someone a goal and there’s no stopping them.”
He admitted sports were more important to him than church growing up. “When you’re made to go to church you tend not to like it at times, but what was being built despite me was a foundation of belief, a structure of faith that will see you through difficult – and really good – times. It grows deeper as you rely on it through your life.”
It sounded like a difficult childhood to me, but he shook his head and laughed. “I love Carbondale. I go back every summer to teach basketball camps. To give a little of what I got.” He began leaving his hometown regularly, though, when his talent began to get noticed his sophomore year of high school. Summers he’d go to Chicago to attend the kind of camps he now puts on. “That’s where my game really took off to another level, playing against older men. A lot of basketball players come out of the Chicago area. Others might say New York or L.A. but Chicago… that’s where the players come from…” He laughed, but there was a spark in his eye daring me to challenge him.
Daniel came to the University of Florida through a hard-to-resist recruitment. “It was the opportunity to see another part of the world – and it was the world to me. I’d never been out of the Midwest, so down here was culture shock. I had people saying ‘hello’ who didn’t know me; where I’m from you don’t talk to someone if you don’t know them. I was on uncommon ground. It’s that Southern hospitality, you know, the sweet tea and everything that comes along with it. I knew then I wasn’t moving back; not when it’s twenty degrees there and in the eighties here.” Not to mention the chance to play his first year. “Yeah, I’m an impatient man, if I put the work in and prove myself, then I deserve to be in there.”
College for Daniel was the best time of his life, but it wasn’t without its difficulties. “It’s like having a full time job you don’t get paid for. Conditioning, practice, weight training, more practice, more conditioning, watching game films, and a full load of classes and study time.” Daniel has the habit of pulling lessons from everything; his student athletes are never far from his mind. “This routine possesses a lot of qualities that – even though they’re not aware of it at the time – will benefit athletes later down the line when transferring to the business world. Discipline, working toward a goal, playing under pressure, working in the public eye… it’s the best time of your life.” Daniel was an integral part of the first Final Four team ever fielded by the Florida Gators, and with it he was feted with numerous awards. Daniel was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006, he was awarded the Regions Bank solute award honoring former student athletes from the South Eastern Conference operating successful business and is receiving a prestigious 2008 SEC Conference Legends Award.
The NBA loomed large in his mind as friends, coaches and supporters all encouraged the dream. “I would try out every year and always make it to the final cut, but it never happened.”
That didn’t mean he wasn’t a professional. Daniel played professional basketball across the world. “The longer I played, the more my family would say maybe it was time to consider the B plan, but when you’re focused on the A plan, there’s no time for B or C. Basketball was like an addiction to me. No matter the problems or pressures off the court, when I was out there I was totally free. It was magic.” Time waits for no one, not even athletes, and eventually Daniel knew it was winding down. “I decided to play in Israel. It would be a chance to see the Holy Land, and I did; Jerusalem, Bethlehem, it was beautiful country, nothing like you see on TV.” He led a team of non-English-speaking players and managed to pull them together despite the language barrier. “Basketball is a language of its own.”
Then, with practicing over and the season ready to begin, the first game rolled around. “I was walking out onto the court and suddenly it felt like someone kicked me in the back of the foot but no one had touched me. I fell to the ground and it was over. I had torn my Achilles tendon.”
From there yawned an empty pit. A successful athlete’s image is entirely rooted in sports. Everyone around them reinforces that image with cheering and backslapping. For those playing college ball, they are severely restricted about how much they can work and stay eligible. It seems everyone but the athlete is making money, but when the parade is over, they are left to themselves, bereft of their identity, so they believe, with no way to make a living. For some, the chasm is too large to leap. Disappointment, betrayal, bitterness, depression – they all vie for the former athlete’s psyche. Daniel fought it, and determined to do something about it.
Athlete Connections was founded to partner with schools and sports fans to bridge that gap that no one was spanning. Whether it’s learning to handle finances responsibly, discovering their transferable skills, or help in seeking employment, Daniel and his board of directors offer hope.
I asked Daniel if achieving professional status was only for a precious few, are college sports worth it? “Oh, yeah! College is fantastic, the best time of life. The school is not the problem, the gap between university and employment is. We’re there to fill that gap. We need the help of business and loyal fans, true, but that will come.” Maybe that business is yours. Maybe you are that fan who can offer skills or tax-deductible donations. Or maybe you’re a student athlete struggling in the gap. Daniel Cross can be found at www.athleteconnections.com. Check it out!
The Odds of Going Pro
|Student Athletes||Men’s Basketball||Women’s Basketball||Football||Baseball||Men’s Ice Hockey||Men’s Soccer|
|High School Student Athletes||546,335||452,929||1,071,775||470,671||36,263||358,935|
|High School Senior Student Athletes||156,096||129,408||306,221||134,477||10,361||102,553|
|NCAA Student Athletes||16,571||15,096||61,252||28,767||3,973||19,793|
|NCAA Freshman Roster Positions||4,735||4,313||17,501||8,219||1,135||5,655|
|NCAA Senior Student Athletes||3,682||3,355||13,612||6,393||833||4,398|
|NCAA Student Athletes Drafted||44||32||2||470,671||36,263||358,935|
|Percent High School to NCAA||3.0%||3.3%||5.7%||6.1%||11.0%||5.5%|
|Percent NCAA to Professional||1.2%||1.8%||9.4%||3.7%||3.7%||1.7%|
|Percent High School to Professional||0.30%||0.02%||0.08%||0.45%||0.32%||0.07%|
Former Athlete, Jeffrey Keller, supports AthleteConnections.com
You see, I was one of the 384,000 student athletes that Athlete Connections is trying to help. Fortunately for me, I had support. My family and my wife-to-be were there to help me through it. But not everyone has that kind of support. I was lucky. I bet I was part of maybe 10% or 15% of those 384,000 student athletes who had someone to lean on. Most student athletes are left to fend for themselves; abandoned by schools, coaches, fellow athletes who went pro, former fans, and friends who prepared for life after college. The accolades, the praise, and the rewards are all gone. My suspicions are that most feel lost and confused as to what they need to do to succeed like they did in their respective sports. I know I felt that way and I had people around giving me encouragement. And that unyielding drive for success that is as much a part of who student athletes are as anything else…that”s gone too. With no direction and support, more and more of a former athlete”s self-esteem is drained away with each waking moment. Who could blame a former athlete for being depressed?
Now don”t get me wrong. I am not crying for pity for myself, or any other former student athlete for that matter. But I am saying that I understand. Dan Cross understands. And why do we understand…because we went through it. And we’re telling those out there who will listen that this is a population that needs attention. They are tossed aside, with the rest of the useless items, all used up and have no idea who to turn to. If you’re an athlete reading this, do you best to talk to those at Athlete Connections who can help you understand your situation. If you”re an executive or business owner, find out what Athlete Connections can do for you by providing quality individuals who will no doubt bring you success. It”s a matter of awareness. It”s a matter of understanding. And Athlete Connections is trying to bridge that gap.