Nike’s George Raveling inspires student-athletes


Author: Jack McHenry (Sports Columnist)

Student-athletes around the country hope that their passion for sports will somehow manifest itself in a career that pays for that dedication. At a school like Occidental where academics largely outweigh athletics, many realize that a career in sports is likely to take place off the field of competition. Clubs like the Occidental Sports Business and Law Network (OSBLN) cater to the type of student-athletes who aspire to get involved with the behind-the-scenes side of the sports industry. Former Nike employee George Raveling is an example of a person who took an opportunity to capitalize on his passion for the sports world off of the field.  Many students, including those involved in on-campus sports and sport-related clubs, hope to do the same thing. 

In a lecture Wednesday at USC, Raveling shared with a class of students the fundamentals for being successful in life based on his vast wisdom. As the director of international basketball for Nike, Raveling was  responsible for spreading the Nike brand around the world, focusing largely on the Chinese market. On the path to this elite position with Nike Raveling was a trailblazer, playing major NCAA basketball prior to the civil rights movement, becoming the first black head coach in the Pac 12 and helping to expand the Nike brand internationally. 

Raveling claims his biggest fear is not being able to accomplish everything he hopes to accomplish. This was apparent as he revealed his open mind towards new technology, the changing character of the United States and the future for current students. His positivity and clear desire to be the best at whatever task he faces was a powerful demonstration of a systematic, relentless will to continually learn, improve and succeed.

While a former NCAA Division I athlete and coach has an inside track to careers in the sporting world that most of us do not have access to, the fundamental tenets of Raveling’s talk downplayed the significance of these connections. One came away from the talk with the feeling that staying in accordance with Raveling’s advice would lead to genuine success. He emphasized having a plan and making the sacrifices and decisions necessary to accomplish that vision. 

“I never took a job based on money. I always took a job based on opportunity,” Raveling explained during the talk. Thus, Raveling found an essential balance between idealism for a career that one loves and the reality of having to make the necessary preparations to achieve one’s career goals.

Raveling gave particular attention and praise to Nike. “It’s the most incredible company you could work for,” Raveling said to the audience. His praise for the company was so high because of clear moral characteristics; the kind of characteristics one would expect to find in a good friend and not the most influential sporting goods company in the world.

“The one thing people don’t understand about Nike is its loyalty,” Raveling said. He upheld Phil Knight’s decision to continue endorsing Tiger Woods when no other company would touch him after the scandal broke. “The real test of a relationship is how you deal with a relationship during a time of crisis,” Knight once told Raveling.

At age 75, Raveling is extremely well informed and in touch with the modern world. He seems to harbor little bitterness about the current state of the world and has instead embraced it, launching his own website, embracing new technology and using modern business innovators Steve Jobs and Phil Knight as role models for success.

Furthermore, Raveling saw these changes as positive for youth with aspiring futures. “Probably 95 percent of you are preparing yourself for jobs that don’t exist right now,” Raveling said to a room full of students.

This optimism for the future and ability to constantly adapt to rapidly evolving technology makes Raveling a living example of how being progressive and in touch with the modernizing forces in society are essential to personal success.

The wisdom this man was able to accumulate from his life experiences is impressive to say the least, but his willingness to share it is even more impressive. It would be easy for a man in his position to be arrogant and distant. Indeed, many high profile athletes, coaches and businessmen are. But as Raveling continued to speak, one could see his firm belief that through a constant will to succeed, one obtains knowledge. He brought a bag of books with him and continually referred to various books throughout his talk, giving particular emphasis to biographies of Steve Jobs and Abraham Lincoln.

Listening to talks of this nature are is often difficult, as one comes to think the speaker is not genuine and the message is the same flashy stuff a motivational unicycle rider says to a gym full of middle school students (yeah, that guy really exists). But Raveling was different. His success was fundamentally grounded in a strategic will to improve and succeed. In any endeavor he has pursued, be it playing basketball, coaching basketball or spreading the most recognizable sports brand across the world, Raveling has triumphed.

To hear his wisdom, and to see his progressive thinking and feel the gravity of his words was a privilege for each student in the room.

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