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Queens College alum talk about jobs in wide world of sports

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Three distinguished figures who work in professional sports returned to their alma mater, Queens College, last week to give advice to around 50 students hoping to land jobs in the insular industry.

“I’ve always had a love for Queens College,” said Frank Supovitz, who graduated in 1979.

Supovitz is the senior vice president of events for the National Football League, where he organizes huge games like the Super Bowl. He was joined on the panel by Howie Rose, the play-by-play announcer for the New York Mets, and Matthew Higgins, the executive vice president of business operations for the New York Jets.

The trio did not sugarcoat job prospects in the sports industry.

“Sports has its own section in every newspaper,” Supovitz said. “But what’s deceiving is that it’s not that big of an industry. There aren’t that many jobs out there.”

For example, the NFL only employs 981 people, he said. Teams are run by small staffs. And unlike medical school, Higgins said, there is no program to place students directly into the sports world.

“There’s no natural path,” he added.

But they stressed that a dream job can still become reality with a lot of hard work.

“There is nothing like practical application,” Rose said, referring to the world of sports announcing. “The best way to learn is to get behind a microphone.”

Decades before he was in the Mets announcer’s box, a teenage Rose sat in the nosebleed section of Madison Square Garden announcing hockey games into a personal tape recorder.

Jets employee Higgins credited his rise through the industry to his appetite for new challenges.

“They gave me an opportunity to do things beyond my pay grade and age,” he said.

But the panelists also had more specific advice for getting into the game.

“Sales is important,” Higgins said. “If you can sell, you’ll always have a job.”

The Jets franchise has 70 people selling tickets, he said.

Internships are another way to get one’s foot in the door, along with starting at the lowest rung of the ladder.

Rose and Higgins recommended making photocopies or performing other mundane tasks like running Gatorade to players as part of a game-day football staff. It’s not the most glamorous work, but it is possible to claw your way to the top — and Supovitz is a living example.

In 1979, he worked in the mailroom at Radio City Music Hall to help pay for school.

“I delivered mail to a guy I hired 10 years later,” he said.

Supovitz ended up managing events for Radio City, which eventually led him to the NFL.

At the end of the discussion, the panelists took questions from the audience, who wanted to know how the three men dealt with setbacks to their careers and balanced a family with their time-consuming jobs. One audience member asked for their opinions about women in sports.

All three said that women hold many crucial positions in the industry, and the sex of a sports journalist is generally a non-issue.

But Rose had particularly harsh words for Inez Sains, a Mexican sports reporter who was allegedly sexually harassed when she entered a Jets locker room in the fall.

“You can’t go into a clubhouse looking like you want to get picked up or find a husband,” he said, adding that the controversy surrounding Sains can attract intense media coverage and ruin the hard work that women sports journalists have been doing to gain access since the late 1970s.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 6:14 pm, October 10, 2011
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