Interview with Dr. Marcus Amos
Bryan of SportsDegreesOnline.org interviewed Dr. Marcus Amos. They discussed his career, how to evaluate success, and he shared some tips on choosing a Sports Management Program.
About Dr. Marcus Amos
Dr. Marcus Amos currently serves in the roles as Assistant Professor, Faculty Athletic Representative, and Career Pathways Liaison at Voorhees College. He is also the founder of Prevention Education for Athletes. Dr. Amos earned dual master’s degrees from South Carolina State University, majoring in Rehabilitation Counseling, and LSU, majoring in Sport Management. He received his doctorate degree in Kinesiology and Sport Studies with a concentration in sport management from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Amos has spent over 20 years working within sports and social services, combining the aspects of life-skill development in athletics. His passion for ongoing Athletic Player Development has touched the lives of many athletes at both the amateur & professional level. Dr. Amos has served as an NCAA Health & Safety Grant Speaker, while also gaining several years of experience in collegiate, professional, and community sport organizations. He has worked in the counseling support field within state, private, and federal facilities. Dr. Amos holds several professional licenses and certifications. He is a Licensed Substance Abuse Associate, Certified Mental Health First Aider, Certified Clinical anxiety Treatment Professional, Certified Mental Coach, Certified Bereavement & Trauma Specialist, Certified Crisis Interventionist, Certified Job & Career Development Coach, Certified Job & Career Transition Coach, Certified Life-Skills Facilitator, and Certified Anger Resolution Therapist. Dr. Amos has also become one of the leading educators & advocates in the country providing Prescription Drug Education in Sports. He has presented as a research speaker at local, state, and international conferences; while receiving numerous communities, academic, and service awards. Dr. Amos has provided expert media consultation for: • HBO Real Sports • ESPN Outside the lines • ESPN Radio/ESPN News • 60 Minutes • 20/20 • L.A. Times • ABC News His areas of research interest include: Opioid Prevention in Sports, Athletes and Life-Skill Development, Mental Health & Well-Being of Student-Athletes, Athletes & Career Transition, Diversity & Inclusion, and addressing barriers that affect athletes both on and off the playing field.
Bryan: Dr. Amos, you have an impressive resume which includes a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and a master’s in sports management at LSU. You later completed your PHD at the University of Tennessee in kinesiology and sports management. Can you talk about your academic journey and why you chose those fields of study?
Dr. Amos: It’s kind of been a desire of mine since a young age to always work in sports. I’ve always wanted to work in an area that was involved in the development of athletes, athlete wellness or student athlete development. When working with high school or college athletes I always wanted to address those barriers that affected their athletic performance and development off the court and dealing with their transition from athletics to the real world. If you look at my academic and degree process, you’ll see I’ve always wanted to study the holistic care model of athletes. My academic area ranges from the kinesiology and sports study side to the counseling side. Some would say, how does that fit? If you look at the totality of what a lot of athletes deal with today and focus on their performance, there are always some issues of personal problems outside the field or arena that affect their performance. My academic studies have always related to sports and social services, rehabilitation and counseling. My desire to get a master’s in counseling dealt with just trying to understand the personal development and rehabilitation process once they hit those barriers and pitfalls that affected their life and athletic ability.
Coming out of high school, my first major was in physical therapy. That program was cut but I wanted to remain in that area so my bachelor’s degree ended up being in kinesiology. Once I got that degree I wanted to study the physical aspect and how that relates to the whole life. Specifically I wanted to work with physically disadvantaged individuals who were on the therapeutic recreation side. I thought that was interesting to provide physical recreation activities to those who were experiencing physical disabilities whether it be therapy for quadriplegics, the visually impaired or those experiencing mental illness. So I got into that and went back to school to study therapeutic recreation. I had a great experience interning in that field but I kind of wanted a little bit more. I understood the structure of creating a therapeutic plan for individuals, but I really didn’t understand what they are going through in the process, mentally and emotionally. That kind of sparked me to go back to school and get a master’s in rehabilitation counseling, to grasp the mental wellness and psychological aspect of what that person is dealing with. I wanted to combine it with my existing ability to create therapeutic programs for whatever disability the patient might have.
Moving forward I am continuing to work with athletes in the area of mental health and substance abuse. My desire was to create and manage these sorts of programs for private or local organizations. So I moved forward and got another master’s in sports management. During that process I also worked in social services and substance abuse. That was in 2003 during the time of heavy steroid use in professional sports. But I was also thinking about another problem, opioid use. Everyone was focusing on steroid use at the time so no one wanted to tackle any other problems. But because I was working in an opioid treatment clinic I was screaming at the top of my lungs that this opioid problem was coming and it was going to slam us hard. I wanted to create a program to address opioid dependency that athletes were dealing with following injuries. I was always in the mindset of furthering my education and I wanted to study this from my research dissertation standpoint. That was kind of my motivation, to go back to school and get my PhD, while always promoting education with more prevention programs and conversations on college campus dealing with opioid dependency.
Bryan: You’ve mentioned that you’ve spoken to lots of different groups of student athletes about how to navigate the transition from the student athlete world to the professional world. When you speak to student athletes, how do you relate success as an athlete to success in the professional world? And are there any aspects that are different for athletes that they must keep in mind as they get to the professional world?
Dr. Amos: I’ve spoken to professional and student athletes and success is what they see as successful. What I try to get athletes to understand is that every athlete sees success athletically from two different standpoints. Success for one athlete might be to become a college athlete and it doesn’t matter if they make it to the pros. For the next athlete, high school might be the starting point, college second and pro sports is the ultimate idea of success. I usually ask them to gauge what success looks like for them and at that particular point in their life. Like I said, I don’t rate success. I like to hear what it means from the athlete’s perspective. And here is why, because my idea of success for them might be seen as a disappointment if that makes sense.
Bryan: I certainly appreciate that nuance. As a follow up question, let’s imagine that we are talking about a student athlete who is a senior, and who is projected to get drafted or signed by a professional team. This is an individual who needs to face the reality of pivoting away from their identity as an athlete to a professional person. What aspects would you say they this individual should hold on to that made them successful as an athlete, and what should they keep in mind that is going to be different as they transition to the real world?
Dr. Amos: How they have changed as a person. That’s number one. I try to have that conversation freshman year. If you have that conversation early about success, they can talk about things in the future. So when they get to that point in junior or senior year, they can look back on what they have accomplished and determine what has been successful. We know the percentage of players that move into the professional sports realm after college, whether that’s overseas or here in the US. It’s a small percentage. But what does success look like to you in college, by being a student athlete? Is it graduating? Is it going to the pros? Or is it becoming a better person than you were in high school? Those questions do come up, and that sparks a trend to continue the conversation. What was so bad then that you know you need to change now? When you have those sorts of conversations, those individuals start to understand that there are more important things in life growing up than getting drafted. But you have to have the conversation early. These are some of the things I talk about with student athlete directors at institutions.
There are two types of transitional processes. The first is either from the college athlete to the professional athlete or the college athlete to the “real world.” The second transition type is from the high school athlete to the college athlete. I am also a career transition and development coach, so I like to talk about the structure of what the transition process is going to look like. That could be another conversation because that is when you have to have a very targeted experiential learning program with student athletes. If that is not in existence, then after four years, that athlete won’t know what they are going to do.
Bryan: In the past, you have served as the coordinator of the sport management program for Voorhees College. What is your advice for prospective students out there who are trying to choose which sports management program is right for them? What are some factors they should be looking for and how should they make that decision?
Dr. Amos: I would recommend utilizing your free electives while in school. Most schools have between nine and twelve free electives that a student has to take. The incoming freshmen have to be involved in all experiential learning programs or projects and I think that’s the institution’s responsibility at that point. We have a freshman that is able to declare a major in sports management but they don’t know what direction they want to go in. I would encourage them to involve themselves in all experiential learning opportunities even if they aren’t taking the practicum course at that time because they are a freshman. That’s the faculty’s responsibilities to identify the student’s interest areas even though they might change. Therefore I advise students not to use those free electives on classes that don’t contribute to their career pathway. And here we try to manage that very carefully. If you major in sports management and your school doesn’t have concentration areas like sports journalism or medicine, it doesn’t mean your curriculum track can’t be designed for those concentration areas. For example, if you are interested in becoming an athletic director, make sure your free electives are directed towards business and administration. I think that is really big because it pretty much guides your concentration areas.
Bryan: For the undergrad sports management program at Voorhees College, do students have experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom, to gain experience with outside organizations? Can you talk a bit about some of those opportunities that your students can get involved with?
Dr. Amos: We have partnerships with the University of South Carolina athletic department. We’ve sent students to intern at the Georgia State University athletic department. We have a great relationship with the Charlotte Hornets for outside experiential learning opportunities, particularly for our sports marketing class. We have practicum and job shadowing opportunities with the cities of Columbia, Orangeburg, and Augusta in different sports management and recreation areas. We also utilize a lot of career speakers. I think it’s important to get people in front of them early on who are working in the fields that they are aspiring to also go into. That also helps if they hear something they don’t like about the field they are considering. The more you talk to people in your industry and desired field, the more it helps with your career pathway. Even in the sports practicum class, I allow all sports management students to participate in off-campus experiential learning and workshops because students need to immediately see what those opportunities are, what is needed to perform in those job areas and hear the opinion of those working in the field. We created a day with the University of South Carolina where we took five concentration areas in sports management and had workshops within a six hour time frame. We had people from sports medicine, marketing, event planning, athletic directors, and student athlete development. We broke up the students, had them rotating and participating in different workshop areas to see what the job entailed. Ultimately I think these kinds of things are the institution’s responsibility. Coming in as a freshman, all these students think they want to work in professional sports so it’s our job to expose them to a wide range of areas while not deterring them of their desires.
Bryan: Dr. Amos, you’ve established yourself as a leading voice on the issue of prescription drugs, education and sports. How has the issue of prescription drugs in sports evolved over the past decade and how does the situation look today?
Dr. Amos: In 2003 I was fortunate enough to be registered as an NCAA health and safety speaker. That gave me a platform to go into college institutions and provide this prevention information. Back then there were so many deficiencies. Institutions weren’t using PDMP (prescription drug monitoring programs). This was a system where you could electronically monitor if athletes were doctor shopping, going from doctor to doctor. That process alone has decreased a lot of criminal activity in sports because there are so many institutions now using that monitoring system. That was one major flaw. The other issue was just about getting in there and talking about the problems. A lot of sports institutions programs felt vilified if someone came in and started talking about athletes abusing prescription drugs. So they felt as though they were the institution having that problem. What I was trying to get a lot of institutions to understand was that it’s about prevention, not playing the blame game. It took a lot of convincing to show my motive was to ultimately help student athletes. Prevention is the key. So what has gotten better is the monitoring process and the early prevention education.
I think we’ve made a lot of great steps. We’re never going to eliminate the problem but we certainly have put a dent in it, to limit drug overdoses and provide necessary education. We now educate student athletes on proper use of medication, what respiratory suppressants are, what medications you shouldn’t combine with opioid medication and what holistic care is. We also look at things like anxiety that comes from transitioning from high school to college athletics, the issues they are bringing from their home, culture, and economic background and try to address them so we can prevent pathways into opioid or other drug use. I think we’ve evolved in our approach.
Bryan: Do you think that usage overall has gone down over the last ten years?
Dr. Amos: That’s hard to tell because a lot of athletes aren’t going to be open if you’re doing quantitative or qualitative research studies and trying to get them to talk about percentages of abuse. But I can say from 2003 to 2012, that area of accidental drug overdose death has gone down. So something has gotten better. That period was rough and emotional.
Bryan: Over the last year, social justice issues have become a huge part of sports. Can you talk a bit about how you see sports and social issues co evolving in the coming years?
Dr. Amos: I’ll start off with this. Social justice has to do with the individual looking in the mirror and determining if they want to change their heart. That is social justice. If we are talking about a relationship with sports, I think what we are seeing has always been happening. We’ve gotten to a point where people are willing to utilize their platform without feeling as if there are going to be some repercussions behind it. I still think we have a long way to go with that though. I think athletes are some of the most powerful individuals in the world. They always say if you want to bring people together, have an athletic event or have church. With those two events you are going to have people in the same room with different views on how they feel about the person sitting next to them but the common cause of why they are there can appear as if they’re having some common ground for those two hours. We’ve seen those episodes and horrific incidents across communities and the country which have sparked protests and involved actors, athletes and the general public. We still have a long way to go but now the platform is getting used more without fear, if that makes sense.
Bryan: Do you have advice for students and professionals who may not be people of color but want to do their part to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in academic and professional environments?
Dr. Amos: You can’t do anything unless your heart changes, and that’s the best way I can answer that, and I’ll elaborate. First of all, a workshop is not going to do it. Having friends who don’t look like you isn’t going to do it. Because anybody can camouflage their cultural setting. If you are not going to change your heart, you have to be willing to change your heart about people. You have to understand that what your opinion is, doesn’t mean that’s how you’re supposed to treat people. You can have your opinion but if you have a good heart, you will still treat people well even if you have a negative opinion about them, because you have a right not to like certain things. But if you train your heart and you generally want to treat people fairly, you have to go that route first. What could you do? Have a conversation about it. And when you’re having a conversation about it, understand people’s frustration about it. But don’t take a person’s frustration out of context as if they have a problem with you.
Bryan: Obviously the pandemic has turned the world upside down in so many ways. We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel but it might take years for things to return to normal. When it does and the sports industry is fully recovered, how do you think it’s going to be different than it was before?
Dr. Amos: Great question. How could it be different? I think what’s going to be different is we are still going to be knowledgeable because I don’t think we’ll ever go back to ‘normal’. I think this has opened our eyes from a health standpoint to help us understand that what we’re doing now is probably what we should have already been doing. With this particular disease that’s out there that hit us like a sledgehammer, it’s probably been there before but we just didn’t know. I think this is going to have us appreciate life more. It’s going to make us a lot more humble. We’ve lost over five hundred thousand people and I think this is going to bring us to a point of understanding that life is so short. What things do we value anymore? What is important to us? I think this brought families and co workers closer together. I think from a personal standpoint, that’s going to be a major change on our outlook on life and how we value life.
Bryan: How can young people best position themselves for success in the new world when it emerges?
Dr. Amos: That’s a big one. I think the younger generation is frustrated with the state of the economy. I would say that they should just continue to be diligent. It also affected me. I have problems placing students at internship positions. A lot of jobs went away. I positioned my students to act as if the pandemic wasn’t here in order to prepare them for when things improve. Students need to set themselves up for success now and continue the things they were doing prior to this. Those are the conversations we are having all the time with my students. The country is going to open back up, but it shouldn’t change you being aggressive about where you want to be in your career.
Bryan: How about specific to skills that are evolving? Is there anything that is changing as we speak that would be good to know to stay ahead of the curve?
Dr. Amos: Yes. I’ll give you an example. One of my students got a job with the Kansas City Royals about four months ago. What changed is that this individual had no experience with video interviewing. That’s one of the major things that I saw change. Major institutions need to get ahead of the curve and understand that these are some of the changes taking place and likely to continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Students need to get used to the video aspect of communication with organizations because that is real big right now.
Bryan: Now stepping back for some perspective – Dr. Amos, what are your goals for the future?
Dr. Amos: One main goal that I have and I discussed this last week is helping the helper. You might be wondering who that is. We have effective support programs for our athletes across the country but there is minimum to no support for them, the coaches. So what I’m working on is creating a dialogue with the main coaching organizations (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS and college organizations) to discuss what we’re doing to help the helper. Also, trying to expand international experiential learning opportunities for our students. We have been moving in that direction. We were slated to have our first sports management experience abroad but then the pandemic hit. With that international experience I want to do more collaborations with other institutions and their sports management programs. Those are two main things I am looking forward to in the future, especially helping the helper. I have had a lot of conversations with Division I, II and III coaches and they all are experiencing the same problems the athletes are experiencing, except they have to wear masks. They have to put on that mask, make it happen, go home and hope they have some support within their homes. I have some coaches that have experienced some tremendous losses in their lives but they’re expected to come back and continue performing. But they’re human also. So I’m really focused on this and hope to get some cooperation.
Bryan: My last question for you Dr. Amos. Are there any books or podcasts that you recommend to stay up on the evolution of the sports industry?
Dr. Amos: Michael Cooper’s podcast is great. He’s a former Lakers great and he’s a great friend of mine. He attacks a lot of issues within sports and it’s a great podcast that he has. There is an author by the name of Earl Suttle. He has a book called Stressed to Blessed about transforming your mind, body and spirit. Also Enjoying Excellence is another great book by him. Another great author who is a friend of mine and whose books I use in some of my classes is Professor Adonis “Sporty” Jeralds He’s also a special advisor for the Charlotte Hornets and professor at the University of South Carolina. He wrote the book Champion in You, From the Locker Room to the Classroom, Let Your Light Shine, and Follow the Bouncing Balls.
Bryan: Those are some great recommendations, thank you for those.
Dr. Amos: Also, be sure to check out a documentary that I was in. It’s called Locker Room Addiction. It was aired on DirecTV and I think HBO picked up a limb of it. They featured some of the dialogue on ESPN when talking about opioid dependency. I’ll send you the link because I think it’s great information.