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A Coffee Bean Analogy Helped Build Damon West Into an Inspirational Speaker

Damon West’s story of warning and hope captivates audiences across the country, including Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney.





Photo via Damon West

Damon West is like a coffee bean.

He wants everyone else to be like a coffee bean too, as he travels the country speaking to teams, schools and organizations. West isn’t like most speakers. To travel out of his home state of Texas to his many engagements, West has to get approval from his parole officer.

The former University of North Texas quarterback was sentenced to 65 years in prison in 2009 for a long series of meth-influenced burglary, but was paroled after seven years.

“My life can be a warning —and hope — for those who need it,” West said.

In March, West will release his first book, “The Change Agent: How a Former College QB Sentenced to Life in Prison Transformed His World.”

West gives a lot of credit to Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney, who took to the story immediately after hearing it and helped spread his name to other major programs.

READ MORE: ‘The Breeze of Opportunity is Always Blowing’

“Damon has a powerful story of what can happen and how quickly things can escalate when a person succumbs to drugs,” Swinney said. “His message and delivery capture his audience. At the end of the day, life is about using our experiences to help others.

“Damon is passionate about telling his story and helping others make better decisions.”

After listening to West speak, Swinney texted his coaching peer, Nick Saban, about the speech. Three weeks later, West was in Tuscaloosa speaking to the Alabama football team.

Growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, West’s parents kept him in integrated schools in a time white flight was expected. And despite a happy family life, at nine years old, West had what he called an activating event which caused him to turn to chemicals, like alcohol and drugs.

“But, man, I could throw a football,” West said. “With that ability came a lot of breaks in life.”

He was recruited by a lot of schools — like Florida State, University of Miami (Fla.), and Georgia — as a three-year starter at a major Texas high school. But standing shorter than 6-feet tall, most were reluctant to offer the scholarship in the 1990s.

North Texas did.

West became the starter during his redshirt sophomore year, throwing a touchdown against No. 2 Arizona State. His second game, he separated his shoulder and never played again.

After graduating in 1999, West worked in politics and then as a stockbroker, which is where a co-worker introduced him to meth.

“I gave everything up for that drug,” he said, explaining he had to eventually feed the habit by burglarizing homes.

Eventually, the Dallas Police Department SWAT Team caught up to him. Following his sentencing, his parents told him he had a debt to pay beyond the prison sentence.

“We gave you all the love and support to be anything and you chose this,” his mother told him. “You’re not getting into white hate groups and you’re not getting tattoos.”

He agreed, but didn’t know what he had agreed to. As he got to the holding cell, he asked cell mates who’d been to prison what it was like. They all said to get into a gang and make things easy.

But an older African-American man West only knows as “Mr. Jackson” told him to keep the promise to his mother, but understand that prison is all about race. He’d have to fight the white gangs first, then the black gangs. If he did that successfully, he’d earn the right to walk alone.

“No one is that good to win all the fights in life,” West said. “You have to get back up and keep fighting. Don’t ever turn down a fight and don’t ever not get up.”

Mr. Jackson is where West learned about being a coffee bean. He told West to imagine prison as a boiling pot of water and three things that go in: carrot, egg and coffee bean.

A carrot turns soft. An egg turns hard on the inside. A coffee bean, it changes the name of water to coffee. The smallest item of the three has the power to change the atmosphere of the pot.

“No matter who you are, big or small, you can change the entire atmosphere around you,” West said. “I survived one of the hardest places to do time; not just survived, but thrived. Anyone can conquer any problem they have.”

In prison, West went through hell. He first fought the white gangs. Then he took on the black gangs, meeting them on the basketball court. After every game, they’d shoot for teams, and in one game, he jumped on the ball. He made his shot. The players didn’t like it and wouldn’t pass to him and gave him everything they could, essentially 9-on-1. But he kept coming back. Within six days, he had proven his toughness, his perseverance and his place on the court and his right to walk alone.

“You can’t just imagine how uncomfortable it was for me, but how uncomfortable it was for them,” West said. “But everyone made a change.”

READ MORE: How to Break Into a Career as a Creative Storyteller

Seven years and three months into his 65-year sentence, he earned parole and knew he had to give back and spread the life lessons he learned. He’s sober now and works at Provost Umphrey Law Firm in Beaumont, Texas.

He started speaking at Lamar University and has quickly spread across college football with Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, Pitt, Texas A&M, Georgia, Miami, Oregon and many more.

“For some reason, I came out the other side (of prison); my purpose is to go out and find people to help,” West said. “People get different things from the story. I changed the atmosphere positively around me, and everyone has that power, but it’s a choice.

“We all have choices.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at


In Its Second Year, Major League Rugby Focused On The Long Haul

Major League Rugby Commissioner Dean Howes is optimistic and focused on a long and sustained growth for the second-year league.




Major League Rugby

Photo credit: Griff Lacey

A long, sustained growth is in the cards for Major League Rugby.

The league is avoiding a big splash before disappearing by staying close to earth with expectations, commissioner Dean Howes said.

The league started last year with a truncated, 31-game season with seven teams and has nine teams for a 75-game 2019 season, but by 2022 there’s likely to be 16 teams, Howes said. Until then, when the league hits a wide enough market reach to have true success, Howes said the league will continue to build itself slowly across the nation.

READ MORE: The US Rugby Players Association and Its Goals for the Future of the Game

“It’s in your partners and your expectations,” said Howes, who has previous management experience with Real Salt Lake and the St. Louis Blues. “You have to know what can spend and can’t spend and have realistic expectations you can and can’t drive. No league has reached its full stride in a season, or five or 10.

“Major League Soccer is extremely successful, but it is still just hitting its full stride and is 20 years into it.”

With slow and deliberate growth, Howes believes Major League Rugby can grow into another major sports league in the United States. The league already has teams in Austin, Texas; Denver; Houston; New Orleans; New York City; San Diego; Seattle; Salt Lake City; and Toronto. Teams are lined up for the next two seasons in Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Dallas, with potentially two or three to be added.

The league and teams are a single entity, like the MLS, not a franchise model. Operators of the teams are also owners within the league.

By the end of this year, Howes said each of the nation’s major media markets, save for maybe Chicago, will be filled with teams. Once all those teams are playing, he believes there will be enough market coverage for the league’s media packages to be relevant. Beyond media deals, the relevancy within markets is important in building fanbases. There is already a robust club level of rugby across the country, the middle ground soccer was missing. But unlike the base MLS had, youth rugby needs to be built up.

“You have to be balanced across the country,” he said. “We need to focus on being relevant not just in major markets, but within those markets. Ann evidence of success comes with how we penetrate those markets, how we help build the sport out that’s how it will grow.”

Currently, there are TV deals in place with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and AT&T Sports Networks. To secure those deals, Howes said he had to sell the overall vision of the league’s future.

“All of the TV partners want good content and I think this is great content,” he said. “They need inventory and we need exposure. As long as we can continue to grow with them and not overpromise and underdeliver we can stay within those partners.”

It has many of the factors Americans like in their sports, he said, like high-scoring affairs and easily countable states. And for Howes, a self-proclaimed sports fan who can find something about all sports to enjoy, rugby converts easily to TV, unlike some other sports. Unlike the necessary wide angles for some sports to track balls and pucks, rugby telecasts can get minor details.

“People will like it in stadium and on TV,” he said. “You see them with bumps and bruises and sweat.  It’s a physical game and you see all of that. If you can get people to watch and understand, like any sport,  you start converting them.”

As the TV partners seem to understand the vision, Howes said foundational partners are key to the growth of the league as well.

“In the world of sports, your first sponsors are those you’re doing business with, those people literally getting value from you and your business,” he said. “As you grow and become stronger, then you reach out into those partners who love you because of sheer brand strength.”

Rugby is an international sport with plenty of room for growth in North America, much like the MLS had with soccer. European rugby leagues are already looking at North American cities, according to a BBC article suggesting teams in New York and Toronto for England’s Rugby Football League.

“Obviously the other leagues want to keep an eye on us, what we’re doing and want to participate in the appropriate markets,” Howes said. “We have the most headroom for growth and we’re the largest economic country in the world.”

READ MORE:  Major League Rugby Partners with CBS Sports Network

Howes knows that growth will take time, even just to get a foundation set for future growth. He’s not planning to rush it.

“We have the passion to say this sport deserves to be amongst the other major leagues,”  he said. “We need to be able to say this is what it takes to sustain this thing for five years or 15 years.

“We’re in it for the long-haul and funded and structured for the long-haul.”

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Future of Basketball Trending Toward More Beautiful, Global Game

An evolved game plus a focus on international growth has the NBA thinking more broadly about how, and where, the next generation of stars arrives.





Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Zion Williamson has been the talk of the college basketball season, his Duke Blue Devils are the favorites to win the NCAA Tournament, and his freakish athleticism has NBA lottery teams leaking their chops.

But talents like Williamson could soon enjoy other avenues to the NBA beyond one season in college basketball, according to a panel at South by Southwest. For that matter, the next Zion Williamson may not even go through high school same way.

The juiciest idea includes possibly re-opening the pathway for high school players to turn pro out of high school in a move that would have massive ramifications on business in both sports.

READ MORE: Jennifer Azzi Is Growing the Game of Basketball All Over the World

“One-and-done isn’t great for college and not good for the NBA,” said San Antonio Spurs General Manager RC Buford. “We make them pretend to be college students for a year. No one is winning. I don’t know what the right answer is.

“We have to do a better job for development environment around basketball across platforms.”

The eventual solution may not be a one-size-fits-all option. Anything from college to wider overseas leagues to recent expansion in the G-League could be a viable professional pathway irrespective of the one-and-done rule’s future.

The real choice forks in the road might lie in how future generations are trained. Former two-time NBA champion forward Chris Bosh suggested the development of players in the U.S. should shift from the constant tournament scheduled of AAU basketball. Buford, meanwhile, hoped USA Basketball’s development efforts continue its current evolution toward the programs of USA Baseball and Softball and USA Volleyball with full-time academies aimed at the athlete’s development.

As basketball — and, as a result, the NBA — continues its global expansion, international developmental programs will be crucial to the success of the league. According to Becky Bonner, Orlando Magic director of player development and quality control coach, basketball is already beginning to take cues from soccer and baseball pipelines by setting up academies

“It’s opening up opportunities for kids globally,” Bonner said. “Find the best players outside the U.S. and giving them a pathway to the NBA..”

Buford said there will be opportunities in China, India and all of Africa and with the help of elite NBA academy coaching the game is elevated across the globe.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of success; one player from India or China to excel to the point to our league to generate enough interest to play for decades of academy programming,” Buford said.

Not only that, it takes less than ever to find them. According to Bonner, modern scouting and player personnel developments have so many tools at their disposal that “if you’re in Fiji on the beach and you’re the best player, we’ll find you.”

Along those same lines, as NBA games and highlights continue to increase in global distribution, youth players will continue to emulate their favorite players, which will further shape the game’s visual aesthetics for years to come. Bosh expects the game will likely continue trending toward deeper shots as players like Steph Curry and James Harden launch from further and further beyond the arc, with Trae Young being the first derivative of Curry’s game. It’s a modern twist on the influx of tall athletic swingmen like Kobe Bryant who came of age watching Michael Jordan in the ‘90s.

READ MORE: How Dos Equis’ Basketball Tournament Is Following in Hulk Hogan’s Footsteps

“Kids are just always keeping up with the game,” Bosh says. “When you’re looking at a big now, if he can make a three, that’s a great skill to have. If he can’t, you’ll see that development.”

“Right now, I would handle the ball more, play more like a guard. They control the game.”

Buford said it’s the latest step in a 15-year evolution from brutal low-post banging to a faster and more elegant style, one which is more aesthetically pleasing and approachable to current fans and future consumers.

“We’ve gone from an enforcer to finesse game,” Buford said. “It’s a different game. Our game is prettier and a better product when we don’t have to play [physical].”

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Inside the Life of Allison Galer, One of the WNBA’s Most Prominent Agents

Since starting her own sports agency at age 22, Allison Galer has climbed to the top of her field, working as an agent to big names like Lisa Leslie.

Bailey Knecht



Allison - Galer - WNBA - Agent

Allison Galer (second from the right) has become one of the most prominent WNBA agents. (Photo via Allison Galer)

One day, she’s in Los Angeles watching the Connecticut Sun’s Chiney Ogwumike hit a game-winning layup against the Sparks. Another day, she’s touring the Great Wall of China with the Atlanta Dream’s Elizabeth Williams. Another day, she’s in Prague watching the New York Liberty’s Amanda Zahui dominate in the EuroLeague. And on another day, she’s in Portland at the Adidas headquarters with the Sparks’ Chelsea Gray.

As an agent for some of the WNBA’s top players, Allison Galer’s work is both widespread and nonstop.

“I’m always on the phone with people or at games, traveling where my clients are and where the business is… I’ve tried to do the right things to build in the best way,” Galer said.

Galer received her undergraduate degree from Brown University and then launched her own agency called Disrupt the Game at just 22 years old. She was admitted to the California State Bar after getting her law degree at UCLA and is a licensed WNBA agent and FIBA agent — all before the age of 29.

“I approach it as more of a leg up than anything,” Galer said of her relatively young age. “I can relate to clients… I’ve tried to alleviate any concerns about my age by hustling, being proactive and building my business.”

READ MORE: WNBA Finds Success Through Creative Partnerships

Much of Galer’s success stems from a passion for basketball and her deep roots in the sport. Her uncle, Lon Rosen, is the EVP and CMO of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was the longtime agent to Magic Johnson. He frequently brought her along to Lakers games and events, where Galer took advantage of the opportunity to meet people and make a good impression.

Galer’s networking drive led to an internship with the Sparks when she was in high school, which introduced a new passion for her.

“I attended the inaugural WNBA game when I was seven and a half, but I didn’t really grow up following it,” she said. “When I got exposed to the WNBA my senior year of high school, meeting personnel and developing an understanding of the league, it definitely intrigued me, especially because of my playing background.”

She went on to play basketball for a year at Brown, but decided to put her focus toward a different side of the sport. After working for companies like Fox Sports Net, Lagardere Unlimited and RaptorAccelerator, she knew what path she wanted to take.

“Playing basketball has always been a big part of my life, but I always knew my future would be on the business side of it,” she said.

So even before she attended law school, Galer founded Disrupt the Game, a full-service agency of sports and entertainment talent that focuses on contract negotiations, marketing and endorsements, broadcasting, speaking engagements, and public relations.

“If you can do it yourself, why not bet on yourself?” she said. “If you know you can help people, feel confident enough to get them to trust that you are working for them, and have their best interests at heart, bet on yourself. I’m confident, but I don’t pretend that I know all of answers. I have really hustled, picked the brains of my uncle and the many people I’ve built relationships within the business. Any questions I have, I always ask.”

Galer’s hard work has paid off — her impressive client list includes names like Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie, Alexis Jones of the Minnesota Lynx, Monique Billings of the Atlanta Dream and Kelsey Mitchell of the Indiana Fever, in addition to Williams, Zahui, Gray and Ogwumike.

“I think I have a unique relationship with each of my clients — it all depends on their needs and what they’re looking for,” Galer said. “Lisa met me when I was an intern with the Sparks. We built a relationship, we knew some of the same people. She took a chance on me because she wanted someone who she would be a priority for and would work hard for her… For Chiney, it’s important to have someone in lockstep with her, and that’s what I am with her. We are always hustling, planning, building together, with me trying to push her both on and off the court.”

READ MORE: How Katy Winge Blazed Her Way to an Analyst Position with the Nuggets

“Allison is one of the rare people in the industry that’s young, motivated, self-made and a woman,” said Ogwumike, who is also an ESPN NBA analyst. “We’re like teammates, learning at the same time. Because she played ball, she understands the aspirations that women ball players have. Because she’s young, she can help us navigate our lives and guide us and keep everything in balance.”

Throughout her time in the industry, Galer has seen many of her players come back from extensive injuries, including Ogwumike, Gray, Jacki Gemelos and Jillian Alleyne.

“A lot of my job is helping people — if I wasn’t helping people every day, I wouldn’t like what I did,” she said. “I’m there for my clients for their triumphs and through their adversities.”

One challenge of working in the WNBA, specifically, is that the work doesn’t end once the season concludes. Many WNBA players also compete overseas in the offseason, so Galer makes it a point of watching them play in person.

“Being overseas with my clients is pretty powerful,” she said. “A lot of people have no idea what these women go through overseas — the living conditions, extensive travel, language barriers. If I can’t go somewhere and spend a couple days there, how can I send my clients there?”

Galer also knows from personal experience that forming connections and relationships is crucial in the sports industry. Part of that includes helping her players build connections that will further their careers after they retire from playing.

“I want my clients to meet people and be dedicated to bettering themselves,” Galer said. “They are smart, articulate women, and they’re super impressive, but it takes that in-person interaction. The more people they meet and the more relationships they build, the better they’ll be now, and in the future, especially in areas they want to go in.”

Galer continues to take steps to expand her own repertoire, as well. In addition to her full slate as an agent, Galer and Disrupt the Game represent two sports brands — Chance Athletics and AllNet Shooter.

Even with all of her projects and ventures, Galer values her clients and the relationships she’s built with them the most.

“That’s why my clients work with me — not every player is for me, and I’m not for every player because it really is a relationship with me,” she said. “They know I care, and that underlies my whole business.”

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