This interview is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration
By: Austin Weaver, @AustinTWeaver
An award winning attorney, a media personality, content creator and yogi, Exavier Pope turned an injustice into a career of inspiring others.
After being unlawfully detained during a spring break trip as a 20-year old college sophomore, Pope decided he wanted to be an advocate for change.
“After the ordeal on my walk to catch a bus back to Chicago, I told myself I would never let anyone take my rights away from me. That experience impacted how I saw myself and made me want to become a leader in society. That is what led me to law school.”
To become the influential leader that he wanted to become, Pope sought out the best way to reach a mass audience.
“I only ran track briefly in high school and while I may not have been a varsity athlete, I thought the best way to be influential in society is to put myself around people who were influential and to associate myself with them. What I did love was hip hop music, and used my interest in the entertainment industry to start associating myself with people in the sports industry.”
Pope’s path to success was a self-described, “winding road.”
“Growing up, I never thought about being an attorney, I wanted to be a mathematician. My undergraduate degree was in economics, and before I went to law school, I worked for Merrill Lynch in Chicago. After spending a couple years working in finance, and talking with different agents, I decided that enrolling in law school would give me a chance to be more influential in society.”
Once enrolled in law school, Pope did not waste any time finding opportunities to get his foot in the door in the sports and entertainment industries.
“While I was in law school, I had 13 internships, and through those internships, I was able to gain plenty of real world experience. I worked in recording studios, reality television, modeling agencies. I even ran around the field holding cords for ESPN Sunday Night Football. I took jobs in law school that didn’t have anything to do with law. It was a chance to start paying my dues, meet people and learn how the industry worked. If you want to work in traditional areas of law, your path requires you to clerk for someone and work the summer before you graduate in a law firm. In sports that isn’t how it works. You have to take the initiative.”
After being out of law school for 10 years, Pope offered the following to those looking to find a place in the sports industry through a law degree.
“Don’t sit back and rely on career counselors. If you want to work in sports, unless you are at a school that has a sports law program, the career counselors aren’t going to have a lot of knowledge about the industry. It wasn’t until my last year that I started looking for more classes on sports and entertainment and found schools that had classes on those topics. I wanted exposure to the west coast, so I visited (the ABA allows students to take up to two semesters of credit at another law school to count towards graduation at a student’s degree granting institution) Pepperdine law, and was in their entertainment law externship program. I would advise students to think about Marquette, Tulane, Nova Southeastern and Southwestern. Some of the schools’ overall rankings might not be high, but they have a lot of industry pull.”
For most, coming out of school and finding a job is the goal, for Pope, the goal was to work for himself.
“I knew when I went to law school I didn’t want to work for anyone else. I never saw myself as being someone else’s employee. So as soon as I got out of school, I started trying to find my own clients. I would go to conferences, big sporting events, off-season events, training camps and different games. Add the contacts I made through that with the people I had met through my internships, that was how I started building a client base.”
Finding clients can be difficult, but that is why Pope stresses the importance of building relationships.
“In this industry, it is relationships over resumes. Your level of acumen can mean absolutely nothing if you don’t have any relationships with people already in the industry. My first on-air appearance happened because I had a relationship with a producer at NBC Chicago, and that led to me getting on other networks. I’m asked quite frequently on my ability to appear on every major cable news network, and my response is because I have a network of people working at the networks. When they need to fill content, they know they can call me. I’m dependable and reliable.”
“One of my biggest clients, an all-NBA Defensive player, came to me because of one of my PR agents. If I didn’t have that working relationship with her, I never would have built a relationship with that player. I would say all of my success has come because of my relationships. I can’t stress enough how important relationships are, and even now I am still working on and learning how to build and maintain relationships.”
The final piece of knowledge that Pope offered was on the importance of building your brand.
“Building a brand is a long-term strategy. Overnight success takes 10 years, and I believe that. I had to learn that different skill sets work together, and in order to build a brand I had to find people that could help me. Whether it was hiring an associate attorney or a PR firm, I couldn’t get my brand out there by myself.”
“It takes learning; I took classes on how to use social media as a marketing tool. I took several classes at Loyola Business School, to become a better professional and learn to leverage my knowledge of the industry in order to be a better professional.”
While it was mentioned earlier in the interview, one of the most powerful lines from our conversation was this, “Anytime someone knows more than you offers advice, take it.”
Visit the official Exavier Pope website: exavierpope.com
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This interview was presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration