Professional athletes are popular people. If you’re a pro football player, basketball player, or any kind of professional athlete, people will want to be around you. People will treat you like you’re something special—and you are: You’re special because you’re a human being and all humans are significant and, in addition, you are exceptionally good, perhaps even extraordinarily good, at one sport or another.

The fame and fortune attached to professional athletics can seduce players. Many players come to feel that they deserve the attention and money that they receive. Perhaps they do; however, they should keep in mind that the athletic part of most professional athletes’ careers is short. With some exceptions, particularly in golf and tennis, most professional athletes will have playing careers that end within ten years of starting.

A Professional Athlete’s Reputation is Important

The reputation that a pro athlete develops during his or her athletic career will likely influence the number and type of post-athletic career options that are available. If a player has become known as somebody who treats people with respect and courtesy, who is willing to take time to talk with people, and who doesn’t clearly feel superior to others, then that person may be welcomed into post-playing opportunities such as sportscasting, coaching, or anything else.

Research into the ways that reputations come into existence and grow has produced findings that are relevant to professional athletes while they’re still enjoying the spotlight in their playing careers. Cameron Anderson and Aiwa Shirako studied the development of reputations among students in a business school negotiation course.

At the beginning of the course, each student provided information about how well or little they knew every other individual in the class. Next, over the course of the semester, the students would break into smaller groups to play roles in business negotiation scenarios. Following the conclusion of each exercise, the students would rate each other for qualities like compassion, trust, and empathy. At the end of the semester, the students were asked to nominate the most trustworthy and sympathetic negotiators and also the most aggressive and ruthless negotiators.

Anderson and Shirako found that a student’s reputation was, as expected, linked to their actions throughout the semester. If student John Doe received high ratings for trustworthiness in the individual exercises throughout the course, then John Doe would likely also receive an overall peer rating as trustworthy. This suggests that it’s correct that a person’s reputation is the sum of his actions.

Being Well-Known Means People Are Noticing

Not all students developed reputations in the same way. The researchers found that the development of significant reputations was linked to how well known the student was among his or her classmates. In other words, the popular students developed reputations and the relatively unknown students mostly didn’t.

The lesson for professional athletes is that their reputations are defined when they’re in the spotlight. How they act and how they treat people when they are the stars is how they’re going to be remembered by future colleagues and employers. For the professional athlete, much more so than for the average person, how they treat people when they’re at the top is how they’ll be remembered.

Brian Mitchell was a National Football League star with a 14-year NFL career. He developed a great reputation by treating people courteously and respectfully. Now he’s a successful television and radio host and a motivational speaker. Any group, but especially professional athletes or would-be professional athletes, would benefit from Mitchell’s inspirational presentation about the values of reputation, goal setting, and more. If you’re interested in booking Mitchell, contact him at 703-688-2399​.

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