Sports Industry Must Bridge Gap to Tap Talents of Military Vets

·4 min read

With JohnWallStreet on vacation this week, Sportico is running a five-part series of news features and columns taking a look inside Joe Tsai’s and BSE Global’s sports ventures. Today’s guest columnist is John Abbamondi, CEO of BSE Global.

I spent the first nine years of my career as a U.S. Navy flight officer, much of it flying the EA-6B Prowler from the decks of the aircraft carriers USS Independence and USS Kitty Hawk. I lived in Japan, deployed twice to the Persian Gulf and flew 40 combat missions over Iraq.

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But on Sept. 11, 2001, I happened to be stationed in New York City, where I was just another shocked bystander to the worst terrorist attacks in our nation’s history. Later that night, I received an urgent call from Washington, D.C., with an assignment that has long been viewed as among the most sacred of military obligations.

And so, early on the morning of Sept. 12, with smoke still rising from what had once been the Twin Towers, I put on my service dress uniform and rode the subway to a modest apartment building in Queens, to tell the mother of Petty Officer Michael Noeth that her son had been killed in the attack on the Pentagon.


I left the military in 2002, and I’ve been a sports and entertainment executive for far longer than I was a naval officer. But even now, I’m sometimes asked about my military service and how it shaped my development as a leader. My response is straightforward: The military places young men and women into high-pressure situations, where they learn to be dependable and to depend on their teammates, in order to accomplish difficult objectives. That sense of shared purpose, accountability and a commitment to excellence is why our armed forces are the best in the world.

In my opinion, it’s also why veterans can be so valuable in the civilian workforce, and why many companies would be wise to hire more veterans—some 200,000 of whom separate from military service every year. According to a recent study by LinkedIn, new veteran hires are 39% more likely to be promoted than nonveterans, and they stay with their initial company nearly 10% longer.

Moreover, veterans are an often-overlooked source of diverse talent. According to The New York Times, about 43% of the 1.3 million active service members in the United States military are people of color. Black women now constitute nearly one-third of all women in the military—twice their representation in the civilian workforce. Meanwhile, Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority population in the military. And after centuries of discrimination, today LGBTQ service members serve openly and proudly. It seems clear that any company seeking to improve its diversity would be wise to look to our veteran community.

And yet, too often, veterans struggle to find good jobs after being discharged. This is particularly true in the sports and entertainment industry, where a veteran candidate is 70% less likely to be hired than a nonveteran candidate—one of the worst veteran hiring rates in the U.S. economy.

Why the disconnect? Perhaps in part it’s due to the sports industry’s tendency to hire from within, and to rely on internships (often unpaid) as an accession point for entry-level jobs. Oftentimes, too, the parallels between a veteran’s skillset and our own job requirements aren’t immediately obvious. What’s needed is a bridge.

That’s why at BSE Global we are implementing the U.S. Defense Department’s SkillBridge program—a no-cost-to-employer internship platform for transitioning service members. SkillBridge provides service members with a chance to gain civilian industry experience through training, apprenticeships or internships during their last 180 days of service—all while continuing to receive their military pay and benefits.

For service members, SkillBridge provides an invaluable opportunity to work and learn in civilian career fields. For industry partners like us, SkillBridge helps companies access one of the world’s most highly trained, motivated and diverse workforces at no cost.

In Brooklyn, our BSE SkillBridge program launches this September, in honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and in partnership with the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services. I encourage all industry partners to consider joining us in this effort; SkillBridge employers can get started here.


I never met Petty Officer Noeth, but through the many months I spent with his family, I felt like I came to know him. In the Navy, he had been not only a technical draftsman and graphic designer, but also a talented artist whose commissioned portraits of famous admirals still grace the halls of the Pentagon. A graduate of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, his paintings had been exhibited in prestigious SoHo galleries. He was gentle, funny and irreverent. He was, by all accounts, a loyal and dedicated shipmate.

I would have liked to have hired him.

Abbamondi has been an executive with the Madison Square Garden Company, the NBA and Major League Baseball, and has degrees from MIT and Stanford.