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When Pro Athletes Evolve from Sports to Business

Every professional athlete knows his playing days will eventually come to an end. Most try to put that conclusion off as long as possible, but former Jacksonville Jaguars’ Pro-Bowl linebacker Paul Posluszny freely chose to retire in April of 2018. Despite the Jaguars nearly making it to the Super Bowl three months previously — they lost to the New England Patriots by four points in the AFC Championship — Posluszny knew his own playing days were over.

The 34-year-old father of two holds high standards—he has won many awards and was even named to the Pro Bowl in 2013—so he was not content with merely remaining on a roster. “After the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, I knew my career as a professional athlete was complete. I didn’t want that to be true, but my body had reached a point that I could no longer function at a level I would find acceptable to play in the NFL.”

Posluszny’s high standards, along with his longtime interest in aviation, led him to start flight training in 2013, long before his athletic career wound down. The Pittsburgh-area native knew he would have to move on from the game at some point, so started learning how to fly a plane even at the height of his personal success in football. It was at his flight training that he met the Malone family, who owns Malone Air Charter. The company, based in Jacksonville, Florida, is where Posluszny is currently being trained as an airplane mechanic.

STARTING AGAIN

“Aviation is my passion,” Posluszny said, “so I want to learn all aspects of the industry, starting with the planes themselves, and then moving into corporate management and decision-making skills.” He plans to pursue an MBA, starting in the fall of 2019, at one of three schools—the University of Michigan, the University of Florida, or Carnegie Mellon University—to add to his aviation experience and his undergraduate finance degree from Penn State University.

While Posluszny wants to make a positive impact in the aviation industry, he is not sure of the specifics once graduate school is completed. In the meantime, he is enjoying the learning process and using the same general philosophy that worked for him in football: faith in God, hard work, and servant leadership.

“Father Andy Blaszkowski, who offered Mass for the Jaguars’ players and other team personnel, would talk about servant leadership.” Posluszny said. Jesus, the greatest servant leader ever, did not come to be served, but to serve, and Posluszny recommends that contribution centered mentality in order to be successful in any endeavor.

Posluszny has found his current workplace to share the same values he heard Father Blaszkowski emphasize. “The corporate culture of the Malone family is deeply rooted in the principles of servant leadership, humility, and integrity. They are a truly outstanding family, and the Christian principles of hard work, honesty, and helping others is prevalent throughout the organization.” 

TENDING A NEW FIELD

Former professional baseball player Bobby Keppel has also been able to carry his Catholic faith and sports industry experience into a new field of work. What most players would consider a heartbreaking setback, Keppel took as a simple transition out of baseball and into landscaping. The ground work for his ability to peacefully accept the unforeseen event was laid many years previously, as he had been taught to put family before personal ambition.

In the year 2000 as a senior at De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, Missouri, Keppel was selected by the New York Mets in the first round of the MLB draft. He worked his way through the minor leagues and made his MLB debut with the Kansas City Royals in 2006. He then played for the Colorado Rockies and Minnesota Twins before lending his skills to a Japanese team for four years. By the spring of 2014, he was more than ready to become a starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.

Then the unexpected happened.

Bobby’s father, Curt, who was battling cancer, called and asked his son if he could come back to St. Louis to help run the family’s landscaping business, Mid-America Lawn Maintenance. Because the company’s contracts are year-to-year and most of its workers are seasonal, selling the business as a whole was not an option. The only other option was dismantling the business and selling off its equipment.

 RETURNING TO HELP DAD

Most players would have found it extremely difficult to choose between living their Major League dream and coming home to help the family business. However, Keppel was sure what he wanted to do. “I knew that family comes first, even before big career advancement that had taken years to secure. I wouldn’t have been in the position I was in for 2014 spring training had it not been for my father. He helped me out in countless ways through the years, so when he needed my help, I was happy to give it,” Keppel explained.

The right ordering of human interaction, or subsidiarity, is a big theme for Keppel, one that he recently addressed at a men’s conference at St. Joseph Church in Cottleville, Missouri. The father of seven emphasized to the men present that there is a distinct hierarchy that should determine who receives the most attention from them. He explained: “Of course, God is most deserving of our attention, but after Him, a man’s wife should be his first priority, followed by his children, other family members, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and then business associates.”

RUN BUSINESS BY PUTTING IT LAST 

Keppel does not think this order is detrimental to running a business well. On the contrary, he believes it is the proper philosophy for productivity and happiness. “These days you sometimes hear people say their jobs do not ‘fulfill’ them. I think they have it backward. We shouldn’t look to our jobs for obtaining happiness; we should bring the happiness we have found in the Church into our jobs. It’s a mindset of contribution rather than extraction.”

 Continuing on the theme of putting value into the work, Keppel uses baseball analogies with his father in the landscaping business. The elder Keppel is seen as the general manager of the team who makes the big decisions about contracts and personnel, while the younger Keppel is the manager who makes day-to-day decisions about which “players to put in the lineup on the field.” 

Although Bobby Keppel studied business at the University of Notre Dame during three off-seasons early in his playing career, he has not used much of what he learned. “Maybe if I were in another business, the schooling would come in handy, but in landscaping, it’s a matter of common sense. You treat others as you would want to be treated, charge a reasonable price for the work, pay a reasonable wage to the workers, and so forth. No advanced training is needed; you just need to have the resolve to do the job well.”

 KEEPING THE LORD’S DAY

Some of the basic values Keppel has found to be essential for doing the job well are showing up for work on time and giving one’s best effort every day—except Sunday. Keppel keeps the traditional understanding of the Sabbath as a time of rest.

There have been Sundays on which the company has been open because of weather-induced maintenance backups, but it is nearly always a time of rest from work and reverence toward God. “God makes the Commandments of relating to Him and others,” Keppel said, also noting that “There will always be challenges to deal with, but If we follow God’s commands, things go more smoothly at home and at work.”

TRENT BEATTIE is a Legatus magazine contributing write