Former NFL Commissioner: Students Should Prepare for Global Marketplace

Students should be prepared as globalization breaks down barriers in sports as well as business, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said at the Law School on Thursday.

“The first thing I think you need to do if you’re going to be engaged as an individual or as an organization globally, is to get out there and put your shoes on and walk in the streets of their neighborhoods and on the rural roads of the countries around the world and understand their culture,” said Tagliabue, whose presentation was sponsored by the Career Services Office.

This movement of talent is not only within U.S. teams, where an increasing number of international athletes play football, basketball and baseball. Tagliabue said the world’s movement to embrace soccer, which was formerly dominated by European players, is another example of dissolving borders. Some of the world’s best players, and teams, are now from South America and Africa.For decades, American sports have offered opportunities to overcome racial, ethnic and economic barriers, Tagliabue said. Globalization offers the same prospect to people worldwide. In addition to the free flow of capital, today’s world allows for the free movement of talent, he said.

When people talk about talent in the NFL, Tagliabue said, they’re not just talking about “the Drew Breeses and the Eli Mannings and the Tom Bradys, but the Osi Umenyioras and other players from all around the globe who are now playing in the NFL. The Giants now have a player whose grandfather was Uganda’s first prime minster and was assassinated by the forces of Idi Amin — that’s a long way from the sources of talent of NFL players when you and I were dreaming about becoming NFL players.”

What attracts people to American sports, Tagliabue said, is the idea that the athletes are superhuman. People want to worship great athletes as gods, as they have since the days of the ancient Greek Olympics.

“Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, when they fought, their fights were watched by a billion people around the world,” he said. “It wasn’t because there was mass participation in boxing. It was because they were the only two people in the world who were willing and able to do what they were doing.”

On the other hand, he said, soccer has not caught on in the United States because it is sold as a sport in which anybody can participate. If everyone can do something, he said, not a lot of people want to watch.

Tagliabue said public participation and a feeling of ownership are also important elements of a successful spectator sport. People want to cheer for athletes they know, and teams for which they have ownership. They do not, he said, want to watch outsiders battle.

People who want to pursue sports careers will be competing with people from all over the world, and Tagliabue encouraged students to travel widely, learn languages and embrace the cultures that will inevitably become part of the American sports scene.

People all over the world are ready to compete and succeed, he said.

“They all are pursuing the same types of dreams, the same types of ambitions and interests that you all are pursuing,” he said.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.