By Van Adams, Player Engagement Insider
As the saying goes, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ That’s exactly what J.T. Thomas did when circumstances caused him to have more free time on his hands than usual last year.
Originally drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2011, Thomas joined the New York Giants in 2015. The seven-year outside linebacker suffered a knee injury at the start of the 2016 season that landed him on the injured reserve list. Rather than let it defeat him, Thomas opted for a more productive way to fill the time he would have normally dedicated to football by taking extra classes toward the pursuit of an MBA degree.
It was a chance meeting with former NFL player, Jack Brewer that initially led Thomas to consider enrolling in the University of Miami’s MBA program. Surrounded by an ambitious peer group that includes family members, long-time acquaintances and his brothers of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., the West Virginia alumnus knew pursuing another college degree was the path he wanted to take and it didn't take much convincing for him to start the process.
“My close friends are pursing advanced degrees. They are, or are becoming, doctors, lawyers, and business professionals,” said Thomas whose longtime girlfriend, Morgan, is currently a PhD candidate. “If I want to compete professionally and think differently I have to evolve as a person, as man, as business person, and as football player.”
With strong-willed determination and support from his academic advisors and family, Thomas was able to increase his class load over the past year, ultimately accelerating his time in the program. A wise move and free time well spent; Thomas earned an MBA from Miami this past June.
While he admits mastering Excel was one of the more daunting tasks of the program, he found learning about the intricacies of operating businesses, analyzing case studies, and studying the business dynamics involved in helping others reach their maximum capacity to be both enriching and rewarding.
“It was a process for sure, there were times where I really had to buckle down and grind through the classes,” Thomas said. “Now when I see MBA on someone’s resume, I have a different level of appreciation for what they’ve accomplished.”
Armed with an MBA, Thomas plans to use the lessons learned to explore his business interests in real estate and apparel when the time comes. In the near term, the lessons he’s learned will be put to use in his community efforts with the J.T. Thomas Foundation where, for the past six years, he has been actively involved, along with his mother, in empowering youth through education, sports and leadership programming.
“The (MBA) classes have taught me how to identify ways I can be better at mobilizing resources from potential partners to make sure contributions will positively impact my community,” Thomas said.
Thomas is also a board member of the HEAL Foundation, a non-profit organization in Northeast Florida that serves to meet the needs of the Autism Community. Thomas, whose younger brother is autistic, takes an active role in advocating for the families of these communities.
Keenly aware of the complexities of the world we live in, Thomas strives to do his best in all phases of his life. Whether it was when he took an eighth-grade disabled girl to her school dance, or the time he gave a young teenage boy with epilepsy tickets to the Super Bowl, Thomas has not been shy about expressing compassion for others and actively demonstrating a commitment to building better communities.
“Contrary to what most people see as valuable assets, money and (material) possessions, it’s what we do with our time here on earth that will ultimately reflect who we are,” Thomas said. “The result of doing a whole lot of nothing is usually negative. If we spend our time being productive rather than just busy, then I think that we prepare ourselves for opportunity.”
With an MBA degree to add to his list of accomplishments, Thomas has positioned himself for any number of opportunities that may come his way. Equipped with a deeper understanding of a number of business topics, he takes with him many lessons from the classroom which he intends to pass down to his younger siblings as he embarks on establishing a legacy to reach far beyond the present.
Van Adams is an award-winning entrepreneur and small business owner with expertise in sports business and business development. Over the last decade, she has represented a number of iconic sports celebrities and executed marketing campaigns for their personal celebrity and/or business ventures. An advocate for women in business, Van is the creator and producer of Gathering on the Greens, a women’s golf initiative, and serves as President of the Board of Directors for the NYC Metro Chapter of Women in Sports and Events where she oversees programming and strategy. Van is an adjunct professor and often conducts workshops for the small business & sports business communities. She spends her spare time in a test kitchen baking or on a golf course working on her short game.