Make no mistake; this is the time of year where grades matter to Rams general manager Les Snead.
In the days immediately following his second NFL Draft in charge, media, draft experts and wannabe draft experts will jump to conclusions and assign grades to the work Snead and his staff did last weekend.
But those grades carry little to no weight to Snead. On Wednesday afternoon, it was the marks of about 412 student athletes from the St. Louis Public School District that had Snead’s attention as the Rams sponsored the second annual St. Louis Public Schools Scholar Athlete Luncheon.
Serving along with Olympic great Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Snead offered words of inspiration in a passionate, spirited speech to the student athletes in attendance at the Missouri Athletic Club.
To attend, the students had to meet two requirements: an academic performance that included a minimum 3.25 Grade Point Average and athletic participation in at least one team sport during the last school year.
For Snead, the chance to get up and speak to the room full of students and the 50 local role models from all walks of life – including members of the Rams organization such as Artis Twyman, Ran Carthon, Molly Higgins, George Foster, Kara Henderson Snead, Brandon Williams, Nicole Woodie and cheerleaders Crystal and Aundrea - was an opportunity to offer some insight into the value of the lessons that can be learned not only in athletic competition but also the classroom.
“This is where a lot of your life starts, at this age right now,” Snead said. “Life is not about the circumstances that you are faced with but more about the sum of the decisions that you make. These kids have been stacking good decisions, that’s why they are in here today.”
Indeed, the work of Travis Brown, the Director of Athletics for the St. Louis Public School District, and his staff is dedicated to helping the students in the St. Louis Public School District focus on education, sportsmanship and citizenship while using athletics as an extension of the classroom.
With the help of the Rams and other local organizations, the school district has made great strides in recent years, including the installation of new athletic facilities including a football field at Gateway STEM High dedicated by Snead last year.
“The Rams have meant everything to the St. Louis Public Schools because they are involved in both the mental development and the physical development of our students as well,” Brown said. “The students just think it’s phenomenal for people from the Rams organization to come and just be a part of their lives.”
On the heels of a rousing speech from Joyner-Kersee, one of the area’s most decorated athletes and someone whom Snead acknowledged he’s long admired, Snead stepped to the dais and offered some simple steps for the students to follow to success.
In order to illustrate his point about the importance of the scholar part of scholar athlete, Snead offered some sobering statistics for all who aspire to one day become a great athlete.
Snead told the students that 1.1 million kids play high school football and only about 65,000 of those kids go on to play in college. From there, only 198 of them will make an opening day NFL roster and only 30 of those players will play to the age of 30 or beyond.
In other words, the athletic success can be fleeting but the continued achievement in the classroom can be never-ending.
“We are just ecstatic to have Les Snead come out and give words of inspiration to our scholar athletes,” Brown said. “We will be forever indebted to the Rams for sponsoring this event.”
Snead related a story about Rams’ first round pick
So when the Rams did their research on Austin, they went back to his old neighborhood and talked to everyone who had a hand in Austin’s upbringing and development. He said what they found was a person not unlike the scholar athletes attending the luncheon, a person his whole community was rooting for, a player beloved as much for what he means to the fabric of the community as he does on any football player.
From there, Snead offered some literal words of inspiration in the form of some of his favorite quotes. He quoted Dr. Ben Carson and told the students that “successful people don’t have fewer problems; they’ve determined that nothing will stop them from going forward.”
Snead also related his own personal mantra, “Wake up sprinting, don’t be scared,” which implores people to get up every day with a goal in mind and the mentality to achieve it as fast as possible without fear of failure.
For Joyner-Kersee, one of Snead’s other mantras resonated as he asserted that there are “a million reasons why something won’t happen and that’s the scary part but there’s one reason why something will and that’s why it will.”
“What Les had to say was so important,” Joyner-Kersee said. “If they really listened to the quotes, even when he was talking about how we can have a million problems or a million issues but it’s up to them to have that one thing that reminds them why they are doing it. That’s a philosophy that my husband, who coached me and worked with me always said that those that know why will always be those that know how and Les being able to really give them the numbers because every kid on every block is going to be the next great football player, next Olympian, next basketball star but it is miniscule compared to how many people out there that will get a great education and go to college and make something of their lives.”
\Of course, the takeaway for the likes of Snead and Joyner-Kersee isn’t simply the opportunity to be proud of the students for working hard to achieve their goals.
In many ways, Wednesday’s luncheon provided an opportunity for them to go back to the place where the students once were, to reminisce about tipping points in their own lives.
“Not to sound cliché, it really does my heart good because to acknowledge student athletes along with scholar athletes - since most of the time we are only talking about the bad – when do we celebrate the ones that are trying to do well?” Joyner-Kersee said. “To have the St. Louis Public Schools do this and the Rams as part of it, it’s just great. I am just glad to be here and get a chance to interact with them because I remember when I was at that age and celebrities wouldn’t have time for you so that’s why I wanted to give them my time.”
For Snead, it was something a bit personal, too. He discussed how as an eighth grader he’d never earned a ‘B’ because most of his grades were ‘C’s’ or ‘D’s’ until he was challenged by his best friend to a science duel in which the winner would be declared by who of the two got the better grade.
Snead took the challenge and again never got a ‘B’ because he became an ‘A’ student which snowballed into the opportunity to realize a dream of playing football at Auburn and eventually work his way to his current position in charge of the Rams personnel department.
“It humbles you a little bit,” Snead said. “I was sitting beside Jackie and I can remember those moments being these kids’ age and it just seems like yesterday so what it does is reminds you that what everybody was telling me back then, that formula worked. So you want to pass that on to these kids. It’s very humbling to know that you started where they are and here you are today.”