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‘Diet or Die’: Jesse Marks’ Story Shows Importance of Life Balance in Sports

Jesse Marks was told he had to diet or die after letting his career direct his lifestyle. Now, he’s in the best shape of his life and working better.

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Jesse Marks knew he was neglecting himself, but it was for the good of his career.

All would be fine, he thought, because he was advancing in his tenure at the University of Miami Athletic Department.

“We’re all young and we think we’re invincible,” said Marks, senior associate athletic director of development at Miami. “In that span of building my career over 15 years, my health became very low on the totem pole.”

Constantly wining and dining clients and driven by the bottomline, Marks led an extremely unhealthy lifestyle, neglecting his fitness and feasting at top restaurants, always telling himself he’d have time later to make up for the neglect.

Two years ago, before he was able to catch up, his unhealthy lifestyle caught up to him. He wasn’t feeling well. Coworkers and friends told him to get his life in check.

Knowing it had to do with his weight and lifestyle, he wanted to start treating himself right. But something didn’t feel right. He made his way to the new The Lennar Foundation Medical Center on the Miami campus.

READ MORE: 4 Easy Ways to Find Work-Life Balance

“Something told me I shouldn’t just start running and working out, maybe I should get checked out first,” Marks said. “I knew I was overweight. I knew I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t feeling the way I should. But I was still doing well in my career because of my competitive nature and not wanting to be left behind or miss out on any opportunities.”

An echocardiogram revealed his heart was working at 25 percent function, well below the normal 50-to-65-percent range. It turned out he had a congenial heart defect called cardiomyopathy which hampers how well it pumps blood to the rest of the body. The body will try to adapt so long as you don’t stress it, like with pounds of added weight, Marks said.

“You don’t know it’s there until something real bad occurs and that’s how you could have a heart attack and drop dead, especially if you work out when you’re overweight,” Marks said. 

His cardiologist, an otherwise friendly doctor put it bluntly to Marks: Diet or die.

“He said it just like that. He told me I did nothing that any other 34-year-old career-oriented person would do as they are moving up the professional ranks, however now was the time to get serious,” Marks said. “I lived my life, but a change had to occur and quickly if I wanted to live a long, rewarding life.”

He completely revamped his diet and focused on working out 30-60 minutes a day. Within a month he was down 30 pounds, and now he’s down 100 pounds with radically improved blood pressure and heart function.

He went to Miami Athletic Director Blake James, and asked for the department’s support in his quest for health. James agreed to Marks’ requests, which included a few mornings off a week, and told him he supported him 100 percent.

James said workplace balance is a key within the Miami athletic department because it “translates to an energetic and productive workplace.

“Our athletic department is a family — we spend a lot of time together and we’re all passionate about what we do,” James said. “Jesse needed some time to address some health issues and, as a member of our family, we wanted to assist him as much as we could.”

Now that he’s back to a healthy weight and paying attention to himself, Marks won’t let himself fall back into the trappings of a work-dominated life. He’s no longer a puritan in what he eats, yet still keeps it balanced while making time to workout every day, with added efforts on days he know he’s likely to have a little more fun. He also doesn’t want to see others in the sports industry to fall down a similar path.

He said it’s important to make choices in what’s on the plate and to make time to exercise, not just for physical fitness, but mental fitness. A good walk or bike ride can do wonders for creativity, Marks said.

“You don’t want to hit rock bottom, a place where there’s no coming back,” Marks said. “I could have been in heart failure two months later. Everything is balance; I think we lose that working in sports and trying to climb the ladder.”

It’s still hard to look back at his career and say he’d do anything different, and he calls the severe health scare the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

“You physically cannot burn the candle at both ends without taking some time, taking a breath and putting yourself first occasionally,” Marks said. “I’m now in the best shape of my life. I know I’m not just going to have a massive heart attack. I couldn’t have said that two years ago.”

READ MORE: ‘Watering the Grass’: Why Company Culture Matters in Sports Business

Work-life balance has been a growing trend the past several years, breaking generational molds of career-driven lives. Sports have long been one of the worst offenders in driving employees to the brink of exhaustion.

“It happens quick, as soon as you hit the professional world and you are trying to build a career and family,  you can lose track of yourself very quickly and not take personal well-being seriously.

“We need to do a better job in this industry,” Marks said. “We should be a model of those we try to affect. We’re here to shape student-athletes; we need to set an example.”

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 pat@frntofficesport.com.

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Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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“I Thought This Was a Good Deal”: AAF Vendors Speak Out

Amidst the spring football league’s collapse, countless vendors are still waiting to get paid for services rendered.

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Ultimately, it was the little things that best told the story of how dire things had gotten for the Alliance of American Football (AAF), an ex-team social media manager said. Starting in Week Five, social media managers no longer traveled with the team for road games. Even before, they’d doubled up on hotel rooms. The final bit of penny-pinching was the most bizarre: For the eighth and final AAF game, social was told Getty’s photographers would not be in attendance. Instead they would have to rely on “generic images,” making the job vastly more difficult.

Less than a week later, on April 2, the chaotic, short-lived lifespan of the spring professional football league, launched in March 2018 by filmmaker Charlie Ebersol, the son of venerated TV producer Dick Ebersol, came to an abrupt end. A little over two weeks after that, the AAF filed for bankruptcy, as first reported by Front Office Sports.

In the aftermath, stories like the social media manager’s have become ubiquitous. A  former player was sent a medical bill for treatment received during training camp. Scores of others reportedly had to cover their own airfare or were sent four-figure bills for hotel rooms. There was the class-action lawsuit filed by two players, claiming that ownership misled them about the league’s long-term fiscal solvency. Founders pointed fingers at one another after the debt-ridden league came crashing down. All manner of now ex-employees, from team officials to players,  learned they were out of a job thanks to social media.

The league’s bankruptcy filing revealed that $48.3 million was still owed to a variety of creditors against a $11.3 million in concrete assets, a scant $536,160.68 of which remained in the league’s bank accounts. Moreover, the AAF informed the thousands of creditors that any attempts to recoup their losses would be pointless right now, because, per Sports Business Journal, its coffers are entirely bare… “If it later appears that assets are available to pay creditors, the clerk will send you another notice telling you that you may file a proof of claim and stating the deadline,” the filing states.

But like the social media manager, many of those selfsame creditors began to suspect the AAF was on rocky financial ground long before the league officially pulled the plug.

Shortly after Tom Dundon, the majority owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, who built his financial empire on the backs of subprime auto loans, bought a majority share of the financially-strapped league, he started to cut corners, looking to pare down expenses by any means necessary according to a report by Sports Illustrated. “As soon as Dundon took over, our f——— expense reports were getting approved out of Dallas,” where Dundon Capital Partners’ office is located, a former mid-level AAF employee told the magazine. (Dundon did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent via the Carolina Hurricanes. The form to contact Dundon Capital Partners on their website was removed at some point in the past few months )

With the AAF bleeding millions each and every week it remained in existence, per USA Today, Dundon deemed it necessary to scrimp and save wherever possible including on the margins. So vendors—companies that supplied locker room supplies, traveling equipment and more—were approached hat in hand and offered less than the full amount owed by the AAF.

READ MORE: AAF Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy 

While AAF officials served as the point of contact, two sources involved with the negotiations told Front Office Sports that the debt-clearing plan was conceived and ordered by Dundon’s financial team. If that meant exploiting AAF officials’ pre-existing relationships with vendors and playing on the faith placed in the league, so be it. As one former AAF official told Front Office Sports, it was “just a shit situation.”

Some of the companies did take the lowball offers, but others refused to accept less, insisting on full payment. It didn’t matter. Both paths led to vendors getting stiffed by the AAF. Dundon’s financial team kept stalling, promising the equivalent of “the check’s in the mail,” right up until the moment when the AAF closed its doors for good.

Now those vendors have been reduced to poring over the bankruptcy filings. They know all too well that, despite being out five or six figures, they’re way at the back of the line, trailing giant conglomerates like MGM and Aramark which are owed millions. And they’re not happy about it.

“I definitely feel scammed,” one vendor said.

(more…)

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