"The Rams sponsoring us to attend the symposium meant a lot to us," Rams Football Operations representative Alexander Smith Jr. shared when reflecting on his time at BSBS. "The Rams made an effort to not only sponsor us to go, but to support the inception of BSBS as well. It's highly important to me that the Rams are taking a stance to promote diversity to help minorities excel through the ranks. They recognize the problems and are addressing them by creating opportunities for young Black students and people like myself. The symposium allowed young professionals to network and be in a room with executives, powerful leaders and decision-makers in sports… showing that 'Hey, there are people like you here. You can get to these spots… there are just steps you have to take to get there.' I think that was one of the powerful messages of the symposium for all the attendees."
To create a more inclusive and equitable professional sports community, Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff teamed up with sports industry executives, including Battle of the Brains Founder and Executive Director Gregory Gibson Jr. and NFL Network Senior Correspondent Steve Wyche, to create the annual symposium.
"The Los Angeles Rams and Kroenke Sports and Entertainment are committed to building equitable pipelines for the next generation of talent in the sports industry," Demoff said. "The pathway towards a more diverse landscape of sports executives starts by providing students and young professionals access, mentorship and skillsets to demonstrate their talent."
BSBS is a disruptive, invitation-only, annual event that unites, cultivates, illuminates, and celebrates Black professionals and students in the sports business industry. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. hosted the inaugural event on June 16-18, 2022, to serve as the epicenter for Black talent acquisition, engagement and development for sports organizations driving impact within the industry.
"There were quite a lot of really interesting learning opportunities the conference presented," said Amber Williams, Rams Manager of Analytics and Consumer Insights as well as the co-chair of the Rams Diversity and Inclusion Council. "The conference was one of the more honest conferences I've attended. It was about fellowship and development. A huge part of the conference was about how you grow in your field, within the industry, and within your teams, while also celebrating and respecting who you are and your culture."
The three-day symposium provided attendees with an array of sessions focused on topics including showing up authentically in the workplace, self-advocacy, financial literacy, the importance of Black representation, women in sports, mastering mindset, and even featured a record-breaking speed networking event.
"There were two sessions that were extremely powerful," said Roxana De Santiago, Rams Football Operations Office Administrator and member of the Rams Diversity and Inclusion Council. "One focused on advocating for yourself. It was a good panel with a mixture of people who'd been in the game for 30-plus years and professionals that are my peers. Being a younger person, being a young female as well, trying to work your way up in sports is not always the easiest. Advocating for yourself is such a big one, so that panel spoke volumes… There was another panel with just women, focused on women empowerment and how to deal with being a minority in an office full of what is typically Caucasian males that are making all the big decisions. So, getting to hear these women has encouraged me to make sure that I'm moving the right way and still having my own identity while being graceful, professional, and getting what I need out of the situation without changing who I am. I found those two panels empowering and educational."
Each session featured all-star speakers, including award-winning journalist and cultural commentator Jemele Hill, top motivational speaker Dr. Eric Thomas, the Rams Director of Football Affairs Jacques McClendon as well as Kevin Demoff. Additionally, Deion "Coach Prime" Sanders, two-time Super Bowl champion and head football coach at Jackson State University, headlined day one of the symposium.
The conference not only offered its attendees diverse content, but it also provided attendees the opportunity to interact with Black professionals in all phases of their careers, from executives to students.
"I wanted to go to the Black Sports Business Symposium because I felt like it was imperative for us to have representation in regards to me being a Black man in the sports industry. It feels like there's not enough representation," said Roderick Stephens, Rams Director of Partnership Marketing. "Additionally, the symposium had a really good balance of networking opportunities as well as opportunities to connect with young, up-and-coming professionals who are interested in breaking through. Just putting myself in their shoes, relating back, I wish I would've had some sort of opportunity like this."
The experience was impactful for Rams' employees from all different backgrounds. The group of attendees featured men and women from both the cooperate and football sides, interns to directors, and some of the football scouts joined.
"As someone who is not Black, but a member of our ID Council, I found this experience empowering," said Roxana. "I just felt really good about getting the opportunity to go."
Amber added, "Overall, for being the first one ever, the event went really well. You could just feel that everyone was there to help each other out. There were people that were students, senior directors, VPs and top agents, and everyone was willing to have an honest conversation with you. I appreciated the honesty of everything while also celebrating the culture and who we are. Sometimes those things don't necessarily go hand in hand in the workplace."
Since its inception, multiple organizations across the sports industry have come together to support BSBS through ideation, in-kind giving, and industry support including the Rams, AMB Sports and Entertainment (parent company of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United), and The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
"I'm excited to see how BSBS develops," Alexander said. "It has a lot of potential to be something even more special. I'm definitely interested in attending the event next year. I think more and more people will start to recognize that BSBS is a great learning opportunity. I learned more about myself through the different panelists. After the conference, I felt like a better overall individual and just excited to take what I learned and apply it to my professional career."
To learn more about the Black Sports Business Symposium, visit www.blacksportsbiz.com.